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2014 Syracuse Orange Cross Country Preview

The men's squad looks to defend their ACC crown while the women return a bunch of starters from last year's 3rd place team.

Kevin O'Keefe

The only Syracuse team looking to defend an ACC Championship in 2014-15 is Chris Fox’s Men’s Cross-Country squad. The Orange also won their 4th Northeast Regional in the last 5 years and had their highest NCAA finish (10th) in over 60 years.  Improving on last year’s finish might seem daunting since SU is losing their top 2 finishers from the NCAA meet, but there are a number of reasons to be excited about the team’s prospects this Fall. Apparently the college coaches agree with this optimism as the Orange rank 8th in the country (1st in the ACC and 1st in the Northeast Region) in the preseason poll.

SU’s top returning runner is Martin Hehir, who has a chance of becoming the best distance runner in Syracuse history. Last season, Hehir led the Orange at 4 meets, highlighted by 3rd place finishes at the ACC and the NCAA Northeast meets. Last year’s ACC champion (Andrew Colley from NC State) has graduated, so Hehir is going to be in contention for an individual title this year. Coming off a track season where he broke SU’s school record in both the mile and 3000m and won the ACC 10000m title, it is reasonable to expect Hehir to finish higher than 113 at the NCAA meet. He’ll need to be better if SU hopes to improve on that 10th place finish at Nationals as placing in big meets can be heavily influenced by where your top 2 runners place (top 5 runners are counted in the team’s score).

Returning candidates to join Hehir in the top 7 runners include a mix of returning cross-country contributors: MJ Erb (21st at ACC, 59th at NCAA), Reed Kamyszek (25th at ACC, 194th at NCAA, and last year’s NCAA Elite 89 Award Winner), Max Straneva (17th at ACC), Ryan Urie (37th at ACC, 128th at NCAA), Andrew Palmer (member of 2011 and 2012 NCAA teams), and Andrew Bennison (52nd at ACC);  some talented underclassmen with solid track credentials- Dan Lennon (29:37 outdoor 10k),  Kevyn Hoyos (30:04 outdoor 10k), Joel Hubbard (3:43 outdoor 1500), and last year’s top recruit, Nick Ryan from Fayetteville-Manlius. Ryan redshirted last Fall, but was a two-time HS All-American and could easily help make up for the losses from last year’s top 7.

This year’s squad could also get a big boost from the incoming freshmen class, which includes the most impressive recruit brought to Syracuse by Fox and Associate Head Coach Brien Bell. Justyn Knight from Ontario finished 8th in the 5000m at the World Junior Championships this summer and his 1500m and 5k times would have put him among the top 5 at SU last year.  Knight’s resume suggests that he’d be ready to step in and join the top 7, but Fox typically redshirts his freshmen as they make the transition from 5k high school races to the 8k and 10k distances of college.  The talent of Knight and fellow recruit Mickey Burke (3rd in last year’s NY State Championships, 4th at the Foot Locker National meet) could cause Fox to consider changing that strategy this Fall, but they will have to show that they are ready to make an immediate impact. It’s doubtful that Knight or Burke will burn their redshirt unless they are solidly in the top 7.

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.

On the women’s side, Syracuse returns 5 of their top 7 runners from last year’s 3rd place ACC squad,  including top runner Margo Malone. Malone finished 1st for the Orange in all but one race in which she competed last year. She was 9th at the ACC Championships and 49th at the NCAA meet, leading the Orange to a 22nd place finish in Terre Haute. Like Hehir, Malone is coming off a very strong track season where she broke the school record in the 10k (33:15 at the ACC meet), so look for her to continue to lead the Orange this upcoming season.

The women’s team will get a boost from Ole Miss transfer Haley Cutright, who finished 11th at last year’s SEC Championship meet. The other returning runners from last year’s NCAA team are Meredith Speakman (15th at ACC, 110th at NCAA), Jesse Petersen (24th at ACC, 243rd at NCAA), Maura Linde (39th at ACC, 197th at NCAA), and Sydney Leiher (48th at ACC, 192nd at NCAA). Other returning runners who could be in the top 7 mix include Katie Fleischer, Rebecca Skodis, Angelica Peck, Shaylyn Tuite, and Beth Wright. All of them have been in the top 7 during their Syracuse careers and they provide the depth that good programs need. This group will be joined by redshirts Karina Ernst and Fiona Hendry and as with the men, the biggest questions will be who takes the next step forward this season.

As with the men’s freshmen, there’s a good chance top recruits Kellee McCann and Mary Malone (Margo’s younger sister) to redshirt this Fall, especially with the depth in front of them. We’ll have to see how the first couple of meets unfold to get a better sense of the plans for them.

The preseason coaches poll ranks the Syracuse Women 13th in the country (3rd in the ACC and 1st in the Northeast Region), which shows an improvement over last year’s team. The experience and amount of depth returning are the reason for this prediction, but the Northeast region is strong and talented, so the women will need to be strong throughout the Fall to keep their at-large bid intact as well.

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.

Complete schedule information is listed online here and I’ll provide updates through the season.