With today's news that Chris Fox and Martin Hehir were named Coach and Performer of the Year for ACC Men's Cross-Country, it's a good time to look back at the accomplishments of the Syracuse Orange teams this year.
Back in September I took a look at what we might see from the Orange this season. Starting with the men, let's see if I had any idea what I was doing:
I think SU stands a very good chance at repeating as ACC Champs and finishing in the top 2 at the Northeast Regional (and earning the automatic NCAA qualifier). Improving on last year’s 10th place finish will depend on SU closing the gap between their top 3 and numbers 4 and 5. I’d expect Hehir to run much better this year and for SU to improve slightly upon last year’s 10th place finish continuing the program’s rise.
The first two predictions weren't very difficult. As most thought, SU dominated the ACC Championship and used their incredible depth to win another Northeast Regional. The men rose to #2 in the rankings heading into the NCAA meet and their 5th place finish at NCAA Championship was the program's highest finish in over 50 years. What led SU to make a bigger than expected leap this season?
Talking with SU All-American Martin Hehir, he indicated that this year's Orange squad, "developed a mindset that they could run with anyone". This was evident in the post-race interview conducted by Flotrack after Syracuse rolled a stellar field to win the Wisconsin Invitational. The only people who don't seem surprised by the results are the Cuse guys.
Hehir told me that the team left Terre Haute feeling accomplished, but a little disappointed, saying the team "thought they all could have run a little better." It's amazing that a 5th place finish seems like a small disappointment, but that shows you what this program expects and what will drive the returning runners as they look to improve in 2015.
Syracuse's depth on the men's side was truly impressive this season and the ability for their 1-5 runners to stay close together carried the team. Credit must be given to the group of MJ Erb, Max Straneva, Dan Lennon, Joel Hubbard, Colin Bennie, Reed Kamyszek and Justyn Knight. Each meet it seemed a new runner stepped into the top 5 behind Hehir and the Orange will return all but two of those runners next year, but they won't be able to sneak up on anyone.
While the men were enjoying a great season, the SU women battled their way back to the NCAA Championship earning an at-large bid. Here was my preseason prediction for the women's squad:
My prediction is that the SU women will finish 3rd in the ACC, 3rd in the Northeast Region, and make the NCAA meet as an at-large selection. At the NCAA meet, a top 20 finish would mark a successful season for the team.
Syracuse was led again by Margo Malone, who turned in very strong performances at the ACC and Northeast Regional meets. Not having last year's #2 runner Meredith Speakman this year had a big impact on the SU squad. The Orange women were unable to keep the close 1-5 gap like the men, and that hurt their team scores at the ACC and NCAA meets. Speakman was 15th at the 2013 ACC meet, which would have moved the Orange up at least 3 spots at the ACC meet, and her presence might have pushed the team into the top 20 at the NCAA meet.
Heading into 2015, closing the gap between the top runners is an area where the women will need to improve as they look to get back into the top 15 teams in the country. Someone will need to step up and replace Jessie Petersen, who had a strong Senior season. With a lot of returners, I would expect that the women will be in good position to again qualify for the NCAA Championship.