Women's Cross Country: Young Squad Will Look to Make Strides in 2009

PAINESVILLE, OHIO - The men's and women's cross country teams open the season this weekend at the Tiffin Short Course Race hosted by Tiffin University. The teams will compete on the three kilometer-course at the Paradiso Athletic Fields Saturday morning, Sept. 5.

The Storm loses one of the school's all-time best runners in Jessica Hedrick to graduation, but will look to a couple of talented sophomores to fill the void and provide leadership for a large group of first-year runners.

Allison Wright (Columbus, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) and Carrie Crews (Chardon, Ohio/Notre Dame Cathedral Latin) each made strides throughout their first season and will be expected to compete for the top spot.

Also returning are sophomores Kyle Herron (Perry, Ohio/Perry) and Valerie DeCaussin (Ravenna, Ohio/Southeast) and junior Rachel Hanzak (Cedar Grove, N.C. /Orange) to provide veteran depth to the squad.

Head Coach Bryan Harmon expects a number of the first-year runners to compete for starting spots. Early on, Rachel Nypaver (Parma Heights, Ohio/Valley Forge) and Leah Jones (Maple Heights, Ohio/Maple Heights) have been impressive.

Other newcomers include Sammie Smith (Brunswick, Ohio/Brunswick) and Ember Ryan (Mechanicsburg, Ohio/Fairbanks).

"It's always tough to lose your top runner to graduation, but we have a couple of young, talented runners who will compete hard and battle for the top spots in our lineup," Harmon said. "Our returners have improved from a year ago and our newcomers have shown promise and worked very hard early on. I'm very excited about this year."

After the race at Tiffin, the team will run at Walsh University and Edinboro University in a tune-up for the All-Ohio Championships on Oct. 2.   It's one of two meets circled on the calendar for the Storm, along with the program's first trip to the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional at the end of the season.

"We took big steps last year at the All-Ohio meet and I look for us to continue that improvement," said Harmon. "It's a unique race because every school in the state competes in it, at every level. It's a chance for us to be seen within the state and earn the respect of other coaches, other runners and other teams.   It's a very important meet to us.

"The regional meet will be something exciting and new and a great challenge for our program," he continued. "The distances are bumped up and to just go to a meet like that and to stay mentally tough throughout, is something that we've not experienced. We want to compete and finish that day and not fold." 

With a young team, Harmon is focused on continued progression throughout the season, both individually and as a team. And not just for this year, but well into the future as well.

"We want to continue to get better," he said. "If we can have a strong showing at these early meets, that gives us a good chance for future success with a young core of runners. We can get to the point where we are a major player in big meets and that's what we want to do. We aren't going to be satisfied with just beating a few teams. There's no reason we can't run with the established programs in the state and the region and we want to do that."