Shippensburg University´s men´s and women´s cross-country teams are both eager to start the 2023 season and chase success.
The men´s team is building on a successful 2022 season, in which they finished second at the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championships and fifth at the NCAA Atlantic Region Championships. Head Coach Steve Spence, who is leading the Raiders cross country teams into his 26th season as a head coach, was disappointed in the fact that the team was not able to be more competitive for the NCAA-qualifying third place at the regional championship, but also sees positives.
“We had a lot of positives in 2022, but it was disappointing that we, as a team, were not able to be more competitive for that third spot to qualify for the NCAAs,” Spence said. “Some of our top guys struggled to peak at the right time, and we were hit with some untimely injuries and illnesses.”
For the upcoming season, the goals are set higher. “My expectation is that we will be very competitive for a PSAC and NCAA Atlantic Regional titles,” Spence said. To reach these goals, many changes have been made over the summer.
“Many of the changes have already occurred. I see this group as more committed to a healthy lifestyle of rest, nutrition and stress management,” Spence said. “As a coach, I need them to prepare to suffer a little more than last year. I'm committed to running more hill workouts in which they are accumulating high levels of lactate.”
In the 2023 PSAC Preseason Coaches´ Poll, the Raiders were ranked first with 12 first-place votes. According to Spence, his team is worthy of the No. 1 ranking, but it is important to get it done in the post-season races at the end of October and early November. “Potential, which the rankings are based on and being good in September really doesn't matter,” Spence said.
The men´s team is returning 10 of its 14 runners, and six of them have been running for the team for three or more seasons. The team is featuring three outdoor track PSAC champions from 2023, with Ian Sherlock as the 3k steeplechase champion, Hayden Hunt as 10k and Ryan Wolfe as the 5k conference champion, and multiple other runners who have the potential to place Top 30 at the conference meeting, according to Spence.
The women´s team is looking to build on a 2022 season that had its ups and downs. Early in the season the team won two meets — the Piper XC Challenge at home and the Long-Short Invitational at Dickinson, but only placed seventh at the PSAC Championships and the NCAA Atlantic Region Championships in the postseason. According to Spence, injuries and sicknesses prevented better results in the postseason.
“We had a lot of highlights last year, like winning the Piper meet and winning the 4k at Dickinson,” Spence said. “Unfortunately, we had some untimely injuries and Covid infections in the post season which kept us from performing our best when it counted most.”
For this season, the goal is to prove the potential of the team, according to Spence. “I feel that our team has a lot of potential and that we are underrated. And, I'm excited to prove the naysayers wrong,” Spence said.
The women were ranked eighth in the 2023 PSAC Preseason Coaches´ Poll, but received one first-place vote. Spence understands the ranking but thinks his team can surprise this season.
“Based on where we finished last year and some losses of top runners to graduation, I understand the ranking,” Spence said. “However, I feel that by the end of the season we are going to surprise some of those teams that are ranked ahead of us.”
The Raiders lost two of their top runners to graduation but are returning Atlantic All-Region runner Livi Rieck and all-conference runner Kelsey Hull. According to Spence, Leah Moffit, Morgan Hess and Belle Weikert all struggled with health issues last season but are looking strong throughout the preseason. In total, the women´s team is returning 15 of their 18 runners.
Both the men´s and the women´s team will start their season at the Galen Piper Cross Country Challenge at the recreation fields on Friday, Sept. 1. SU alumna Neely Spence Gracey, an 11-time All-American and eight-time national champion, is planning to return home and race as well, after winning the Challenge in 2022 with a course record.
The cross-country teams will then travel to Kutztown, Dickinson and Lehigh in September, before taking on the PSAC Championships in Bloomsburg on Oct. 21. The NCAA Atlantic Region Championships take place on Nov. 4, where the teams will have the chance to qualify for the NCAA National Champioships that will be hosted in Joplin, Missouri, on Nov. 18.