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Ohio State men’s, women’s cross country poised to break away from pack

Ohio State fans have come to expect excellence from their sports teams every season. From that viewpoint, this years men’s and women’s cross country seasons were disappointing, but a deeper look reveals two very young teams that are poised to break out next season.

The men’s team had a roster of 14 runners this year and only two of them were upper classmen, senior runners Donny Roys and Chris Fallon.

Eight runners – more than half the roster – were freshmen or redshirt freshmen.

The women’s team is slightly larger with a roster of 18 but they only have 3 upper classmen, junior runners Meredith Wagner and Mallory Kreider, and senior Tori Brink.

A full third of the team’s roster – six runners – are freshmen.

With the two teams combined only graduating three athletes, their prospects for the future look brighter than their results this year would indicate.

“We’re excited about the youth of this group,” men’s coach Brice Allen said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys who are gaining experience and gaining strength.”

In a cross country tournament, the team’s top five fastest runners’ scores count towards the team result. With both teams competing in six events this season that means they each had 30 scoring spots for the year.

For the men’s squad, only six of those 30 spots were recorded by the two graduating seniors.

That means 80 percent of the scoring runners will be back next year, and since there are no juniors on the team, the whole team should return for the 2014 season.

Assuming they continue to mature and improve their times as Allen said they are doing, the next two seasons will offer improved team results for the men’s team.

It’s much the same story for the women’s team. While more of the season’s scoring spots were taken by upper classmen, nine of 30, only three scoring runs were made by the team’s lone graduation senior.

The squad will be returning Wagner and sophomore runner Michelle Thomas. The pair finished first and second for the team in every race this season, with Wagner taking four of the top spots.

She was happy about her success but wanted to compete at the NCAA National Championship meet.

“I was pleased with the season overall although I would of liked to perform one more week,” Wagner said.

Thomas was excited about the development of the team dynamic and its prospects going forward.

“I feel like not only have we grown closer as a team this year, but we have become stronger and we know we can do anything we put our minds to,” she said.

While Wagner will likely be the de facto leader of the women’s squad following her standout season, the question remains who will take the reins of the men’s team.

“It’s kind of hard to say which one is gonna emerge as a leader,” Roys said of the eight freshmen.

Allen mentioned several names of potential leaders moving forward, but the one name that both he and Roys mentioned was freshman Nick Pupino.

Pupino was a scoring runner for the Buckeyes in five of six competitions this season and was the team’s sixth place finisher his only non-scoring race.

“He’s got some leadership in him,” Roys said of Pupino.

Whoever takes over leadership of the two teams the results next year are likely to be better than this year.

“These guys have got to stay together as a squad. They’ve got to band together,” Allen said of the freshman. “Occasionally we’re gonna have highs and lows that need to be worked through, but as long as they stay together as a team and they focus on the goals: be a conference contender, a regional power and a national representative, they’ll pull through.”

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