Youthful Bruins Raising Coaches’ Expectations for 2010 Cross Country Season
NEWBERG, Ore. - George Fox University head coach John Smith and distance coach Jeff Larson are excited about hard-working returning athetes and a crop of new energy and talent added in the off-season.
“Most coaches with a team this young would have lowered expectations,” admits Larson, who is in his third season as an assistant in charge of the George Fox men’s and women’s cross country teams. “After watching our efforts in pre-season practice, though, my expectations are now raised considerably. The times may not show it right away, but these athletes have a vision, an attitude, a passion to improve. They are fun to coach, and are the kind of team I had always hoped to coach in college.”
Leading the list of experienced runners is team captain Allen Cassel (Anchorage, Alaska / Heritage Christian HS), who is “stepping in as a leader as expected,” observes Larson. “He has high expectations of himself, aiming for the top 10 in the conference, and I believe he is capable of it.”
Austin Morrell (Prineville, Ore. / Crook County HS) is also back after putting in a lot of miles of road work during the summer. Says Larson, “Austin has worked hard during the off-season has good speed, so we will be counting on him more and more despite his youth.”
Larson expects his other two veterans, Chad Sutfin (Clatskanie, Ore. / Clatskanie HS) and Mike Calavan (Sisters, Ore. / Sisters HS), to also contribute as the season goes by and they round into shape.
Contributing greatly to Larson’s increased confidence in the ability of the Bruins to begin climbing up the conference ladder are newcomers Joseph Pia (Newberg, Ore. / Veritas HS), who ran at Newberg High School, and Dylan Arana (Springfield, Ore. / Springfield HS).
“Joseph was overlooked by a lot of other programs because of injuries in high school last year,” Larson remarks, “but if he is healthy, he gives us a legitimate D-I type of runner. I call Dylan my ‘High Noon gunslinger’ because he’ll race anybody. He was the top Oregon finisher in last year’s Oregon-Washington Border Clash, an all-star event for top high school runners from the two states held on the Nike campus.”
Among the other new Bruins seeking to find their niche on the team are Kyle Dreibelbis (McMinnville, Ore. / McMinnville HS), Tyler Magill (Newberg, Ore. / Veritas HS), Aaron Molstad (Silverton, Ore. / Silverton HS), and Brian Goodwin (Santa Rosa, Calif. / Piner HS). Magill, like Pia, ran for Newberg High because Veritas has no program.
“Kyle has the potential to be one of our top five runners,” Larson observes. “Tyler is a battler; the longer the race, the better he is. Aaron had an impressive high school career that should carry over into his college days. Brian has been slowed by tendonitis in his knee after running over 500 miles in the summer, but he should contribute once he is healthy again.”
The most unusual story on the team involves Justin Holman (Bend, Ore. / Mountain View HS), who is legally blind. “Oh, he can see,” admits Larson, “but his vision is something like 20-400, which is legally blind, and he often runs with shades on to help him find the trail, the ups and downs. But he’s not looking for special treatment or any favors; he just wants to work hard and compete, which I think symbolizes the team-oriented focus this entire team has.”
On the women's side, returning letter-winner Melissa Kristovich (Chewelah, Wash. / Chewelah HS) “is fufilling her role as a leader,” notes Larson. “She is taking her team-building responsibilities seriously and has brought our new group together well.”
New faces for the Bruins include Kate Freiheit (Hayfield, Minn. / Hayfield HS), a transfer who ran for one season at the University of Wisconsin-Stout before transferring to GFU. “Kate is a real talent whom, given time, will hopefully make an impact not only at the conference level, but at the regional and even national levels some day,” predicts Larson. “Her experience has enabled her to begin assuming a leadership role with this team as well.”
Larson calls Chelsea Sowards (Marysville, Wash. / Lakewood HS) “our No. 1 runner. She’s tough; the harder she works, the happier she is. She is handling the pressure of being our top runner as a freshman well, and has a tremendous desire to improve.”
Anna Thomas (Newberg, Ore. / Newberg HS) “was a last-minute addition and I’m glad she was,” admits Larson. “She is a blue-collar type of runner, positive and hard-working.”
Alicia Haresnape (St. Helens, Ore. / St. Helens HS) is a newcomer who was slowed by an injury last year, but Larson points out that “she has run sub-20 minute times for 5K’s before, and will be a valuable asset as she gets back into running condition.”
Two other members of the squad - Anja Harder (Yamhill, Ore. / Yamhill-Carlton HS) and Alyssa Turner (Vancouver, Wash. / Hudson’s Bay HS) - are new to the cross country team but not to George Fox athletics, having competed for the Bruins’ track and field team.
Anja had used up her track eligibility and was just curious about the cross country program, but she has turned out to be better at it than she thought,” observes Larson. Alyssa has the potential to compete on a national level as an intermediate hurler and wants to use her cross country experience as training for track. She has a natural ability for leadership, and both she and Anja will be valuable additions this year.”
The Bruins open up the 2010 men’s and women’s seasons this Saturday, Sept. 11, in the Brigham Young University-Hawai’i Invitational in La’ie, Hawai’i. The first race of the day begins at 10:00 a.m. Pacific time (8:00 a.m. in Hawai’i).