Women to discover new front runner, men to develop depth

Written By Dara Collins, Editor-in-Chief

The men’s and women’s cross country teams have undergone significant changes since the 2018 season.

Point Park University terminated four-year cross country head coach and five-year track and field head coach Kelly Parsley in February, thrusting assistant coach Jim Spisak into the role of interim head coach of the teams.

Spisak, now the official head coach, will direct both of the cross country teams to success with the help of assistant coach Tim Creamer.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing the student athletes on the team grow, both athletically and just as people in general,” Spisak said. “I think we have a really good morale and a good level of energy about us right now, and I’m just looking forward to seeing them translate that into racing very well, really improving a lot and being successful athletically.”

Aside from coaching staff changes, decorated athlete Anna Shields graduated this past spring, and the women’s side will be looking for its next star athlete in a shrinking roster list.

The women’s roster has shrunk by nearly half its size from the 2017 season, falling from 15 athletes to eight. There are no seniors on the 2019 roster, three juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen.

“We’ll miss Anna,” Spisak said. “She was an incredible runner, but I think we still have a number of very good athletes who will be able to step out of her shadow and take on an even bigger responsibility.”

“Obviously having Anna on our team helped a lot, but this is also a great opportunity for all of us to prove ourselves,” sophomore Alyssa Campbell said.

Spisak says Alyssa Frausto, a junior transfer from New Mexico Junior College, headlines the women’s recruiting class. As for veterans, high-placing runners Alex Barr, Reba Bartram, Alyssa Boyd and Campbell return for another season.

“Someone will be our number one runner and the other girls will need to have a bigger role too,” Spisak said. “I think it’s a good dynamic… I think some of them will enjoy the added responsibility and even the added focus on them now that Anna, our big front runner, is no longer with us.”

Although the men’s side also graduated a few star athletes, senior Xavier Stephens returns to highlight the 19-member men’s roster.

“Xavier Stephens was our number one runner last year, and he’s coming off a very good track season, so I’m definitely hoping for good things from him,” Spisak said.

Stephens placed second at the River States Conference (RSC) Championship last season, as did the team, and earned himself a spot in the national championship, regardless if Point Park
advanced as a team. Stephens finished with nothing less than a stellar performance.

Now known as the fastest man in Point Park men’s cross country history, Stephens finished with a sub 26-minute time for an 8,000-meter race. With his time of 25:59, Stephens broke the school record.

“I plan to keep working hard and get some good training,” Stephens said. “I’ll try to stay healthy and consistent throughout the year.”

Spisak hopes to fill the remaining top spots with solid runners.

“We have a solid supporting cast around [Xavier], and I think some of them have a chance to run pretty well including Bryan Gutierrez and Doug Kostelansky,” Spisak said. “With the men, we really need to have strength in our numbers.”

The Pioneers welcome six men to the cross country roster to hopefully fulfill Spisak’s quest for more depth.

“It’s hard to say who will stand out more than the others,” Spisak said. “Hopefully, if they all work hard, they’ll all turn out to be pretty good runners.”

Both teams will kick off their seasons on Sept. 7, at the Edinboro Doug Watts Invitational in Edinboro, Pa. There are only four regular season meets before the RSC Championship and National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship in November.

The Pioneers typically enjoy the familiarity of their “home” course at Schenley Park only once a season for the Carnegie Mellon Invitational.

However, for the first time in program history, the Pioneers will race through Schenley Park for the 2019 RSC Championship on Saturday, Nov. 9.

“I want to win a conference championship on our home course,” Stephens said. “Most of us know this course very well and the freshmen will get to [learn the course] so there will be no surprises.”

The NAIA National Championship is slated just under two weeks later for Nov. 22, returning to its 2017 location of Vancouver, Washington.