The Slippery Rock men’s and women’s cross country will kick off their season on September 13 when they host the Mack Cooper Classic at Cooper’s Lake Campground.
Head coach John Papa, who is in his 27th year as head coach of the Rock, will lead both the men’s and women’s team once again. Papa has five seniors on his men’s team and eight on his women’s team to help lead a much younger Rock squad.
The men’s team was picked to finish third in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in the preseason coaches poll after SRU took fourth place in the conference last year. They are also ranked third in the Atlantic Region.
The Rock missed competing at nationals by two points and lost the conference championship by five and a half points. The squad expects to complete both goals this season.
The expected top runners for Papa’s squad are seniors Alex Koksal, Travis Arrigoni, Michael Beegle and Morgan Elliott, as well as junior Chris Grooms.
“We have great depth with our squad,” Papa said, “If one of our top runners go down with an injury, we have other guys who can step up and fill their spot.”
Last season’s finish left a sour taste in the team’s mouths, according to Koksal.
“I believe it has helped to refocus this team,” Koksal said, “We only have one person to replace and we have a ton of depth. With our experience and the young talent we have there is no reason we can’t compete.”
Arrigoni felt he finished last year in a disappointing fashion as the team narrowly missed nationals, but he is poised to have a major bounce-back season this year.
“Our main goal is to finally qualify for nationals and I fully believe we can do it,” Arrigoni said, “As long as we stay focused and train smart, the sky is the limit!”
Edinboro, the reigning conference champion, is projected to win the conference while Lock Haven is expected to take second.
The women’s cross country team was picked to finished seventh out of eighteen teams in the PSAC behind Shippensburg, Edinboro, IUP and Kutztown.
The team took a huge blow after the graduation of their top runner, Stephanie Case, who qualified for nationals last season. The squad did get a big gain however, when senior Kara Styles was granted an extra season of eligibility. Styles earned both All-PSAC and AII-Region honors last season.
Styles has battled several injuries throughout her career, which caused the NCAA to grant her extra season of eligibility. She is expected to fully healthy when they kick off the season.
Papa expects Styles and junior Janine Powis to be his two difference making front runners this season.
“We have a lot of question marks on this team,” Papa said, “but if we can stay healthy, by year’s end we can be one of the top ten teams in the region.
Junior Shannon Byerly, along with sophomores Karly Knetchel, Jenny Picot, and Brittany Fagan were all solid contributors to the squad last season and expect to take a larger role this year.
Slippery Rock will kick off their 20th season with a home game on September 4 at 4pm on the James Egli Field.