Men's Cross Country Fall Preview
Friday, Aug 31, 2012
Now in his third season as Whitman College’s cross country coach, Scott Shields believes the transition from his former post as the school’s women’s soccer coach is complete.
“It’s been a really fun transition, an awesome transition,” Shields said. “Honestly, I miss the players I recruited and the relationships I built in soccer. But in the last few years I have built strong and lasting relationships with the runners.
“It was a little difficult that first season because the runners didn’t have to accept me. They could have been skeptical, but they welcomed me with open arms, and because of that we began to build something that I hope is pretty special with this program.”
Shields’ men’s team has placed sixth in the conference championship meet in each of the last two years, and the Missionaries placed eighth at last year’s NCAA Division III regional competition. And he sees no reason why the Missionaries can’t equal or improve on those placings this fall.
“Our training philosophy is always to run our top races at regionals,” Shields said.
Nevertheless, the coach will have to replace a pair of graduated seniors who were strong performers last season, not to mention Oliver Wood, Whitman’s top runner from a year ago who is spending part of his senior season in an off-campus program in which he will be studying geology and anthropology traveling throughout the west.
“He was an all-region runner, which means he placed in the top 35 at regionals,” Shields said. “And that’s a pretty big loss. He’ll be back at school this coming spring, and then he will graduate.”
The two 2012 graduates are Brendan Boyer and Yonas Sikak.
“Brendan was our team captain last year,” Shields said. “He was one of our top five runners and ran at regionals. He showed fantastic improvement during his senior year.
“And Yonas came back last year after a year off dealing with injuries.”
Shields has 19 runners on his 2012 roster. Taylor Mesojednik (Bellevue, Wash.) and Cory Rand (Tamalpais High, Mill Valley, Calif.), a pair of seniors who are in their fourth year as members of the team, will serve as this year’s co-captains.
“Taylor is our No. 1 runner right now,” Shields said of Mesojednik, who placed first in the team’s preseason time trials. “I knew he would be in our top two or three, but the way he finished that race, pulled away from the pack, clear progress for Taylor, makes me excited to see what progress he makes the rest of the season.
“He’s a quiet leader who has progressively gotten better every race, every year.”
Rand earned all-Northwest Conference honors as a freshman but battled injuries during his sophomore and junior seasons. But he came on to finish third during the time trials.
“He ran a really strong third,” Shields said. “We are hoping all of those other things are behind him now and that he will come back and have a great senior season.”
The only other senior on the Whitman roster is Whitney Griggs (Logan High, Morgantown, W.V.), who didn’t compete last season after battling a foot injury the previous two years.
“It looks like his injury is healing for the most part and it’s looking like he can hold on and finish strong,” Shields said. “We are hoping he can be in our top seven and run at regionals, or at the least our top 10 and go to the conference meet.”
Four juniors are also competing for spots on the conference and regional teams. They are Joe Mayo (Orange Lutheran High, Yorba Linda, Calif.), Spencer Corwin (St. Margaret’s Episcopal High, Coto de Caza, Calif.), Taylor Nelson (St. Stephen’s Episcopal High, Austin, Texas) and Michael Jorgensen (Brooklyne, Mass.).
After a disappointing conference race that kept him off last year’s regional team, Mayo bounced back to finish second in this year’s time trials.
“I think that lit a fire under him,” Shields said of Mayo’s faulty 2011 finish. “He worked hard this summer and you can see that it has paid off. The time trial shows the hard work he put in.”
Corwin was one of Whitman’s top performers as a freshman, bouncing back and forth between No. 1 to No. 2 on the team. Then he went through a “sophomore slump,” Shields said.
“He has come back this year in good shape,” Shields said. “I think he should be solid in our top five this season.
“And Taylor Nelson has come back strong as well,” the coach added. “He had a solid freshman year but battled injuries as a sophomore and tried to push back too soon. This year he was No. 4 in our time trials.”
Jorgensen often ran in the top five last year, the coach noted, but so far this season he has been saddled by injuries.
“I’m thinking he could be a medical redshirt,” Shields said of Jorgensen. “He was solid for us last year so I’m hoping that will not be the case. We will know more in two or three weeks.”
A pair of sophomores and perhaps as many as three freshmen will also figure into Shields’ 2012 plans.
Colin Domonoske (Claremont, Calif.) finished strong last year by winning Pacific University’s Boxer Rebellion one week before the conference championships.
“He came in last year as our No. 1 freshman and it was nice to see him put a race together at the end,” Shields said. “Making the transition from high school (5K races) to college (8K) is a huge stretch, a huge learning curve.
“Colin took a spill and didn’t run the greatest time trial, but we’re hoping he can push for the top five this year.”
Carl Garrett (Mercer Island, Wash.) also struggled out of the gate as a freshman but “got better and better” as the season progressed, Shields said.
“He was flirting with the top 10 all season,” Shields said. “He made our conference team and then made his way onto the regional team in the final spot. He’s one of those guys who could come on super strong.”
Matt Gable (Bellevue, Wash.), Greg Holdman (Sudbury, Mass.) and Dylan Zukin (Goleta, Calif.) are the three first-year runners who are most likely to have an impact this fall.
“Matt and Greg are the two that put in good work over the summer,” Shields said. “I see them as probably the strongest of the five freshmen total that I brought in. Dylan had a better high school career, but he had a job this summer and didn’t put in as many hours on the road as he would have liked.
“But it’s hard to tell right now. The change freshmen face coming in, sometimes you see faster guys who don’t make the transition as quickly as those strong, steady runners.”