The Slippery Rock University men’s track team is back on campus and ready for a season of success under the leadership of head coach John Papa, who is in his 30th season as the coach of Slippery Rock’s cross country program.
In the preseason coaches poll, the Rock was placed at fifth in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), out of a total of 16 teams. Papa downplayed the meaning of polls in cross-country.
“Polls are Polls, they have no effect on us,” Papa said. “We will know where we stand once we get into the Edinboro and Kutztown meets, where we face a lot of good competition we will continue seeing”
Slippery Rock only returns a few of its top runners, with juniors Jeremy Parsons and Jeff Henderson leading the pack.
Parsons enjoyed great success last year as a national qualifier, where he finished 24th in the NCAA finals. Parsons also made the All-PSAC, All-Region, and All-State teams on his way to nationals.
Papa said with those kinds of accolades, sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on becoming better and not plateauing.
Papa said that if Parsons “continues to do what he has been doing, which is doing the little things, being committed and staying healthy, which he does a pretty good job of, he will be right up there again for All-American status.”
Henderson also enjoyed success last year with top-10 finishes for The Rock in the PSAC and regional meets.
Papa said of Henderson that “He had a great season last year, and now he is a year older and smarter. Success creates success, and he saw what Jeremy [Parsons] did and thought he could get there too, and we think he will rise another 10-15 spots in regionals ”
Only returning a few key runners can be quite a burden on the team, but Papa believes that this team is ready for that. “On both sides (men’s and women’s) we lost a lot of athletes, but that’s how it goes in sports. Now the young guys who have been around for a year or two get the chance to step up, which is the nature of college athletics. We’re going to miss some of the runners, but hopefully some of the younger guys can take up that toll.”
Slippery Rock has only five competitions before the PSAC championships, which leaves a lot of preparation time throughout the summer. Papa talked about the importance of off-season preparation of his athletes. “Our sport hinges on self-motivation and self-discipline. If you are not in shape, it shows very quickly in this sport”
Slippery Rock opens the season on August 27th at home with the SRU alumni race. They follow one week later with the Doug Watts distance Gala at Edinboro university. The PSAC championships will be hosted by Kutztown on October 22nd before the Rock hosts the Atlantic Regional on November fifth.