BY BROOKS HOLTON – SPORTS EDITOR
Habit: A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. When applied to the Centre College cross-country team, this definition is only half true. Yes, the men’s team is coming off their third-straight SAA title and is ranked third in the opening U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) South/Southeast Regional Rankings. And yes, the women’s team is looking to defend their fourth-straight conference crown. You could call the tendency or practice of winning regular—habitual, even—but the Colonels are anything but settled, especially when the feeling of hoisting championship trophies is so hard to give up.
A new season always presents new challenges for the team, and this year, those obstacles come in the form of three men’s All-SAA runners that graduated from the roster. Where some might see those absences as a weakness, the team sees an opportunity for growth and to become even better than before.
“Our team graduated a very large, talented group of runners on both the men’s and women’s side,” junior Shelby Adams said. “This years team may not be as big as previous years, but the four seniors have been doing a great job filling the void the graduating class left and are working to acclimate our new freshman.”
The absences on the roster are alleviated by the fact that the Colonels still boast three returning All-SAA runners and SAA Newcomer of the Year sophomore Nathan Riggs on the men’s team, and five upperclassmen, including All SAA/All-Regional and junior Serena Gale-Butto and All-SAA sophomore Marisa Moore, returning on the women’s side.
Seniors Victor Pataky, who placed second overall at the SAA Championship, third in the regional meet, and earned a spot in the NCAA Championship Meet and All-SAA/All-Regional Glen Bortolus will be the anchors of the team. Seniors Amanda Vokoun and Guadapule Delgado will do the same for the women’s team.
These four seniors look to accomplish a feat that few—not even the talented class of 2015—have done before them.
“The cross country seniors have never lost an SAA championship,” Pataky said. “I would like to leave four for four. Not only is that a wonderful accomplishment for the teams, but I also think that it will create a mindset for future teams to continue to bring home those titles.”
Coach Lisa Owens shares in the optimism, but acknowledges the small margin for error in the 2015 campaign.
“We do not have quite the depth that we had last year,” Owens said. There’s no room for injury or illness. Our young runners must develop well and make an impact within our scoring five for this team to do big things this fall.”
As an extra incentive, the Colonels will be hosting this year’s SAA Championship meet at their home course, one that should be very familiar to the runners once the end of the season rolls around. To prepare the course for the competitive environment and energy seen at a championship meet, the team hosted the Centre Invitational on September 12. Last year, the event saw runners from Berea College, Lincoln Memorial University, conference opponent Berry College, Kentucky State University, and Transylvania University participate, with the Colonels bringing home first place.
Both teams have started their 2015 campaign with some positive takeaways from the opening Queen City Invitational hosted by the University of Cincinnati. As the only Division III in the twelve-team field, the men placed ninth with Pataky finishing twelfth overall individually. The women placed ninth out of fourteen teams. Gale-Butto posted a 23:29 6k time to finish 22nd overall. Pataky posted another great outing at the Centre Invitational this past weekend as the top runner, placing the Colonel men at fourth overall. Gale-Butte also played a huge role in the women’s success at the Invitatational, posting a winning time of 19:22.79 on the course and leading the team to first overall.
Even with the early individual success, Pataky knows the success of the team lies with the team’s ability to work together and feed off each other’s energy during a race, and that the real test of a great team is seeing who will be best prepared once the conference championship rolls around.
“The majority of the points in cross-country come from the 3-4-5 scorers on the team,” he said. “The better the guys in this pack do, the better our team will fare in the given race. It’s also not truly about how you race in the beginning of the season, but rather about who is prepared and ready to roll come late October and November.”
With lofty expectations in front of them, and a legacy of winning to build on, there’s no doubt that the Colonels will be in primed position to continue their “habit” of success in 2015.