At the Division II National Cross-Country Championships held in Saint Leo, Fla., Slippery Rock junior Jeremy Parsons ran through the intense heat to pass over 100 other runners en route to a 68th-place finish with a time of 31:48.9 to wrap up the season for the men. There were a total of 242 runners and 32 different teams at the event.
That race wrapped up another impressive year for Parsons, who was The Rock’s top runner in every race that he ran for the second consecutive year.
Parsons dominated the early part of the season, winning the first two races he competed in by 37 seconds at the Doug Watts Distance Gala, and by 29 seconds at the Lock Haven Invitational. Parsons then claimed his second all-conference distinction with a ninth-place finish at the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) in October. Parsons finished the regular season at home with a seventh-place finish in 33:08, qualifying for nationals and making the All-Region team for the second year in a row.
“It was a positive note,” head coach John Papa said on Parsons’ season finale. “A lot of people dropped out of the race because of the heat, and the pace in the beginning was crazy fast so a lot of guys got caught up in it. Different runners react differently to the situation. He went out fast and was still way in the back, but he kept his cool, stayed tough and focused and he finished good. I was really proud of his effort.”
One of Slippery Rock’s main challenges this season was to handle a roster turnover of having five of the top seven runners being freshman in their first semester of collegiate competition.
“It was tough. It’s a tough sport for a freshman. The 18 and 19-year-olds have to compete with the 22 and 23-year-old guys who have been running for a while,” Papa said on his group of freshmen.
The freshmen runners had exemplary performances throughout the year, leading Slippery Rock to three top-five finishes out of their first four meets, including second overall at the Doug Watts Distance Gala, and third place at home at the Mack Cooper Invitational.
The Green and White still performed well against stiff competition once the postseason started, claiming eighth place at the PSAC championships and 13th at the regional championships.
“Those guys definitely had a great learning experience,” commented Papa. “Sometimes you think you’re training and running as hard as you can, but then you see what everyone else is doing and you think ‘I have to run more, better, faster and more often. It was a great learning experience for a lot of our guys.”
The brightest star out of the quintet of freshmen was Hubbard, Ohio native John Marenkovic. Marenkovic’s year sounds more impressive due to the fact that he never ran cross country in high school, only lettering in track twice and hockey once.
His top performance of the year was at the DII/DIII Invitational held at Kutztown University. Marenkovic placed 23rd out of 127 runners in only his second-ever collegiate race, leading The Rock to a 10th-place finish in the rare absence of team leader Jeremy Parsons.
“His first year showed a lot,” Papa said. “Like a lot of freshmen, he got tired near the end of the year. John had his best races in the middle of the year, he started getting tired near the end. Next year he won’t have that same issue, he is going to have his best races in October and November. I think he is an all-conference and all-region caliber runner.”
Freshman Jared Nelson also had a productive year for the Green and White, being the third leg on the team. While Nelson finished at different places for The Rock throughout the year, he fully realized his potential during the PSAC Championships, where he was Slippery Rock’s third-place finisher with a time of 27:48, out of a total of 134 runners.
Papa gave his thoughts on Nelson’s future at The Rock, “Jared Nelson showed some flashes of brilliance, he’s a strong kid. When he gets more miles and more experience, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Other top freshmen performers included Keegan Beard and Daniel Janyska, who worked their way into the top-100 during the PSAC Championships, rounding out The Rock’s top five by the end of the year.
Juniors Jeff Henderson and Evan Zombek and senior Stephen Shepherd provided leadership from the sidelines as they struggled with injuries throughout the season.
Slippery Rock’s cross country season ended with Parsons’ finish at the national championships. Most of the runners now transition to indoor track and field, which starts on Dec. 2 with the Youngstown State University Icebreaker.
Papa said how this season both helps the team prepare for track and for cross-country next season, “since we have a lot of our guys back, we will see a lot of those same guys in track that we raced against. So a lot of our guys are going to be looking at the competition as somebody that they have to beat and compete with to run some great races. When this summer rolls around, they know what they have to train for for next fall. We are going to look to improve significantly.”