If there’s one word that defines the upcoming 2015 season for the Indiana University of Pennsylvania cross country team, it is “challenge.”
As in, both the men’s and the women’s squads have made great strides forward over the past several years, but it could be a real challenge to take the next step into the rank of legitimate contenders.
“Our men’s team has our sights on qualifying for the NCAA Championships,” head coach Joey Zins said. “We missed it by one spot in 2013 and 2014, and we are hoping to take the next step this year.”
Zins, in his sixth season at the helm for both the men’s and women’s teams, has breathed new life into a program that won four Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championships in the 1970s and the early ’80s and finished in the top-five of the NCAA National Championships in both 1977 (third place) and 1982 (fourth).
Despite that rich history of success, the Crimson Hawks haven’t finished higher than third in the PSAC in 27 years.
“We are in one of the better conferences in Division II for cross country,” Zins said.
In 2014, IUP finished fourth at the PSAC Championship and reached the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region meet, where they also finished in fourth place.
The Crimson Hawks return 11 runners from that team, including All-Atlantic Region seniors Alex Hampel (biology) and Ray Ofman (sports administration).
Zins expects to receive leadership from all of his seniors, especially in mentoring the five freshmen on the roster.
He acknowledged a “learning curve” for the newcomers as they adjust to superior competition and a more intense training schedule.
In the preseason PSAC coaches poll, the IUP men’s team was ranked No. 4.
The 2015 season looks to be another rebuilding year for the women’s cross country team.
The Crimson Hawks are ranked No. 11 in the PSAC entering the season. Still, led by first-team All-PSAC selection Rachel Magliane (senior, dietetics), the Crimson Hawks hope to prove people wrong.
“We feel we are a better team than [our ranking], and we are out to prove it,” Zins said.
“The women have been making positive strides, but we are just looking for a little more consistency.”
Indeed, the Crimson Hawks showed they are capable of surprising people at the end of 2014 when they finished eighth at the Atlantic Region Championship.
“We have put together a very competitive schedule as always,” Zins said. “I like to have our team run in high-caliber meets during the regular season so that we are well prepared for the championship portion of our schedule.”
One of those high-caliber meets is approaching quickly, as both the men’s and women’s teams open their respective seasons in Edinboro University’s Doug Watts Distance Gala Saturday.