Sep 5, 2013
WEST POINT, N.Y. – It’s a new season and new mentality for Army cross country, but the goals remain unchanged. It’s been five years since the Black Knights took home a Patriot League title and three years since capturing a Gold Star in the annual Navy meet. But instead of being angry and going into panic mode, a calm, centered and focused aura can be felt by the always-hungry for success Army team.
“To quote Invictus, ‘I am the master of my fate,’” said sixth-year Army head coach Troy Engle. “We’ve made it a point to constantly remind each other, as a team and coaching staff, that all we have control over is our own preparation. We’re healthier and more fit than we’ve ever been and that’s all we can focus on, taking care of the moment.”
Ricardo Galindo and Lisa Junta earned the top finishes in every race last season for the men’s and women’s teams, respectively, and both are back in uniform this fall. With an experienced support cast around them and the addition of a talented group of freshmen, Army has the tools to move to the front of the pack.
Galindo was tabbed to lead the men’s squad this season after having a breakout year in 2012. The senior earned the Black Knights’ top finish in all seven races last season highlighted by winning the individual title at Navy, a ninth-place finish at the Patriot League Championships, and Army’s best individual showing at the NCAA Regionals since 2008.
“We have a unique situation on the men’s side that our captain will lead at or near the front,” Engle said of Galindo. “Ricky is a great captain in terms of his presence and leadership abilities. He brings the whole package and has a great supportive cast around him.”
Galindo, an All-Patriot League second-team performer in 2012, is partnered on the women’s side by senior Liz O’Donnell. O’Donnell, a former Patriot League Rookie of the Meet (2010), got off to a strong start last year before having the campaign cut short with injury. She finished in Army’s top three in all four meets, including the Black Knights’ No. 2 time at the Iona Meet of Champions.
“The women have been exceptionally diligent this season,” said Engle. “They have been focusing on the small things, and without hesitation, in unison, they said it’s because Liz is doing a great job as a captain; she’s really stepped up as a leader and set a great tone.”
Galindo and O’Donnell have the support of an experienced and talented group around them. The key returner on the women’s side is Lisa Junta. Junta had Army’s top time in all seven meets last season, including the best individual finish at the NCAA Regional meet in program history. The All-Patriot League first-team honoree will look to continue the momentum of a record-setting track season in 2013.
“In addition to Lisa, I’m excited to see Lindsay Gabow, Madison Hill and Katie Collins step up. Gabow had an outstanding start as a freshman but it was curtailed by a lingering injury from CBT. Hill missed her entire freshman season with an injury, and Collins has plans to go out with a big bang as a senior.”
With the exception of Galindo, the men’s side graduated the majority of their top finishers from a season ago, offering an opportunity for those on the current roster to move into key contributing positions in 2013.
“The thing that has most impressed me about the men’s group is that we go 12 deep this year,” said Engle. “We’ll have someone break out to the front, that was Ricky last year and it could be him again, but it could be any number of guys, especially Cody Barger and Thomas Girardot.”
Girardot was among Army’s top seven throughout the season in 2012, while Barger broke his way into the top seven by mid-year.
Joining Army’s returners are 17 plebes – 13 on the men’s side and four on the women’s. Unlike previous summers, however, the newest Black Knights returned to post with only small bumps and bruises.
“It’s a season of firsts,” said Engle. “In addition to our returners coming back in really good shape, it’s the first time we’ve come out of Cadet Basic Training with all of our plebes healthy. In my wildest dreams I never would have thought of having a class this big. While a handful of them are true middle distance runners who will be among the best in the Patriot League within the next 2-3 years, we also have some truly talented cross country runners.
“We have a group that is passionate about representing Army who has the ability to contribute right away,” Engle continued. “However, we don’t expect anything from them because with expectations come pressure and urgency, and that only results in carelessness and recklessness. The quality of the class and the group dynamics are really impressive.”
Newcomers to keep an eye on, based on Engle and assistant coach Shannon O’Brien’s evaluations, include Jack Scranton, Matt Bearden, Nicole Carter and Brianna Miller, all of whom could step into the top seven or 12 for the Black Knights.
Army’s schedule remains relatively unchanged from recent seasons, with the one wrinkle being the annual Cornell-Binghamton tri-meet changed to a dual meet solely with the Big Red (Sept. 13). With the Army-Navy Star Meet set for Oct.1 8 at West Point, the Black Knights will have two dual meets on their calendar for the first time since 2010.
“The Army-Navy Star Meet is at home this year which is exciting,” Engle stated. “We always look forward to running in front of our home crowd. It takes on an important place in our schedule.”
In addition to the Army Open to begin the year on Sept. 6, the Black Knights will compete in two other large meets prior to the postseason – the Iona Meet of Champions (Sept. 21) and the Paul Short Run (Oct. 5).
Lafayette will serve as the host for this season’s Patriot League Championships, slated for Nov. 2. Army will then battle for a spot at the NCAA Championships when it competes at the NCAA Regionals at Van Cortlandt Park on Nov. 15.
“We’re starting everything a week later and that’s by design,” said Engle of the Army schedule. “We’ve tried to remove this sense of urgency. We’ve changed the focus. I don’t expect our first couple meets to be good indicators of race ability or fitness, we won’t showcase in those races. I don’t anticipate us toeing the line and strapping on the competitive spikes until probably Paul Short, which will have nine out of 10 of the Patriot League teams.”
Two of those conference teams are rather unknowns to Army as Boston University and Loyola (Md.) joined the Patriot League this summer. Despite the lack of familiarity, Engle is not concerned.
“At the end of the day, all we have control over is ourselves. And for us that means each kid has to stay healthy and keep a good perspective. As long as that happens, I’m confident that the rest will take care of itself and we’ll have a successful fall.”