Eyes set on nationals – Croup’s Corner

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

One vote.

That’s how many first-place votes the Point Park men’s cross country team received in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The other ten went to Rio Grande (Oh.), the defending KIAC Champion.

It’s as close to a unanimous favorite as the poll gets. Coaches are not permitted to vote for his or her own team in the poll, leading one to think Rio Grande’s coach gave the Red Storm’s first-place vote to Point Park.

The men’s cross country team has exceeded expectations this season. When the total votes were tallied, Point Park sat at fourth in the poll behind Brescia (Ky.), Indiana University East and Rio Grande.

Nobody expected them to receive votes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Top 25 Poll this year, but they did. For the first time in school history, the men’s team received votes in the national poll.

For the first time since 2010, Point Park earned a team victory at a meet. The Pioneers took first place out of 17 teams at the Bethany (W.Va.) College Invitational back on Sept. 12.

They’re exceeding expectations – maybe not their own expectations, but surely those of the rest of the KIAC and NAIA.

The final regular season meet of the year is scheduled for Oct. 23 at Rio Grande. Two weeks later, the Red Storm also host the KIAC Cross Country Championship meet, the same one Point Park hosted last year.

Point Park finished fifth out of eight teams at the conference meet last year. Freshman Eric Torres finished second overall behind Rio Grande sophomore Dallas Guy, qualifying him for the NAIA Championship meet. Torres is no longer at Point Park.

The top four finishers of the men’s and women’s races who are not from the KIAC championship team advance to the NAIA national meet. The top seven finishers are named to the All-KIAC First Team, while finishers 8-14 receive All-KIAC Second Team honors.

This squad has the potential to see one or two of its runners qualify for the national meet individually, but if Point Park has the best overall finish and is the team champion, the whole team advances to Charlotte, N.C. for the national championship meet.

In their way is Rio Grande. The Red Storm’s top seven runners last year were all underclassmen. At Point Park’s last meet, its top six runners were in their first year of collegiate cross county.

Freshman Gary Olson ran the Carnegie Mellon Invitational 8K race Saturday in 27:36 and was Point Park’s second finisher.

“We just keep improving,” Olson said. “I’m with the same team for the next three years. We’re going to do some surprising things in our conference and if and when we make it to nationals.”

This team has the confidence and talent to make it to nationals. Rio Grande fields a strong team, but Point Park’s may be just as good, if not better than the defending conference champions.

Only one vote?

They’ll surely have more next year.