9/10/2014 6:04:00 AM
PRESCOTT, Arizona - This fall, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's second-year men's and women's cross country teams are competing without a few of their better runners from 2013.
But Eagles coach Chris Bray believes that he has enough bona fide returnees and talented recruits to compensate for the losses of All-Cal Pac Conference and NAIA nationals-qualifying ladies runner Bailey Riddle and Nathaniel Meeker, a 10th place finisher at the league's men's meet last November.
In late June, Riddle and fellow teammate Sarah Lykins were badly injured in a freak vehicle accident in Phoenix, and Meeker left ERAU to pursue another career path.
Riddle is sitting out the fall semester with plans to redshirt and return to campus early next year, while Lykins has recovered well enough to take classes and still run with the squad.
For the Eagles' women, freshmen Chelsie Reid, Madison Babione, Kaitlyn Masterson and Marina McKenzie, and returning No. 1 runner, sophomore Lisa Garside, should lead the team, Bray said.
As for the ERAU men, freshman Trent Marlow, and returning sophomore workhorses Andrew Petersen, Vincent Arminio, Blake Bradford and Adrian Castillo, pace the pack. Minus Meeker and Colter Merritt, an 18th-place finisher at the Cal Pac last fall who transferred to the University of Utah and won't run, the squad will have a slightly different lineup.
"Even though we lost two of our top five guys, we've filled in and our training is already ahead of where it was last year," Bray said. "I'm really happy with my freshman recruiting class (for the men's and women's teams)."
At the annual George Kyte Classic, which was the Eagles' season-opening meet last Saturday in Flagstaff, the ERAU women placed fourth out of eight teams in the 2.6-mile Open division (non-NCAA Division 1 schools), while the men took seventh out of 11 squads in the 4.5-mile Open division.
For the Eagles' women, Reid of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and McKenzie of Nevada City, California, were the high finishers, snaring 10th (17 minutes, 39 seconds) and 11th (17:42), respectively, out of 75 runners in the Open division.
Meanwhile, Petersen and Arminio, formerly of Prescott High, guided the ERAU men in 32nd (25:10) and 37th (25:23), respectively, among a field of 102 runners in the Open division.
"Andrew's a very solid performer," Bray said. "And Vincent's doing well. I ran with him this summer and we put in the endurance work. Vincent's one of the guys who's right up there at the front every single workout. That's where he was last year, but he's doing it better this year."
The Eagles will not run in their next meet until Sept. 20 at the Mustang Challenge in Santa Clarita, California, where a number of tough NAIA programs will be in the fold.
One of the most exciting developments for ERAU in the off-season was the construction of a new cross country course on its Prescott campus off Willow Creek Road. The length of the men's course is 8K, while the women's is 5K. Both sections climb and descend rolling hills.
"Now we've got something that's going to be intercollegiate quality," Bray said. "It's a tough course. It's not a fast course, by any means. But a race is a race."
On Oct. 4, the Eagles will host the inaugural ERAU Arizona Invitational that will include teams such as Arizona Christian, Navajo Tech, Mesa Community College and Benedictine University, also of Mesa.
Embry-Riddle will run at two other meets in mid-October before heading off to the Cal Pac Championships Nov. 3 at Woodward Park in Fresno, California.
At the Cal Pac meet, the top four individual men's and women's finishers along with the winning teams on both sides will qualify for the NAIA National Championships Nov. 22 at Rim Rock Farms in Lawrence, Kansas. Last fall, among a nine-team field, the Eagles' men finished second in the 8K race, and the women were fourth in the 5K.
"I think we'll do well (at this year's conference meet)," Bray said. "Everybody's getting better (in the league). We're a good fit for the Cal Pac, especially right now. We have a better opportunity to go to nationals."
Compared to ERAU's inaugural season last fall, Bray said his 2014 runners are a week ahead of the 2013 squad's training schedule.
"I told everybody, 'We are stepping up this year,' " he added. "We are going to be better teams and we're going to be better individuals than we were last year because that's what it takes to be good. They understand, and they've responded."
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Photo of Kaitlyn leading the pack
Courtesy of Doug Cook