Aug. 5, 1997
1997 Men's Cross Country Outlook
With three impact runners from a year ago departed, head coach John Marshall and Associate head coach Jim Tuppeny have their work cut out for them as the 1997 cross country season approaches. Gone from the roster are Stephen Howard, Gabriel Soto, Steve Mazur, and Oisin Crowley a seasoned quartet that helped guide Villanova to an IC4A title and top 20 finish at the NCAA Championships in 1996.
There are, however, talented, hardworking student-athletes returning, and the Villanova coaching staff will aim to compete at the highest level.
"This year, we are a very inexperienced team," Marshall said. "We don't have any All-Americans returning, and our top athletes are all extremely young.
"The success of the men's cross country team hinges on Coulby Dunn, Scott Tantino, and Cory Smith. Each of these three young men are talented and hard working. We expect great things from them. Rich Morris and Brock Butler should be strong in a supporting role."
The heart and soul of this year's squad will be junior Coulby Dunn, who logged two top five finishes and two top 15 races last season. In addition, the Greentown, Pa., native, placed 32nd at the IC4A Championships and competed at the NCAAs, giving him valuable experience. His highest finish of the season came at the Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh University when he captured runner-up honors in 24:46.1 over the 8,000m course.
"Coulby is an extremely hard working individual," said Tuppeny. "He is probably the hardest worker I have ever coached, and that makes him special. We look for Coulby to have an excellent junior season in 1997."
Right behind Dunn is sophomore Scott Tantino, projected as one of the Wildcats' top runners. Tantino is Villanova's highest returning NCAA finisher, placing 115th at the NCAA Championships in 33:18. He competed in every meet a season ago, earning the distinction as the Wildcats' No. 5 runner three times and No. 3 runner once.
"Scott is a question mark," Tuppeny said. "He has a recurring knee injury, and we're still not sure if he will be able to compete. He's been battling the injury since high school, and has always worked hard to overcome the problem. Hopefully, he'll be in competition shape when the season begins."
Cory Smith is another key runner in the Wildcats' overall scheme. Smith, a sophomore from Baltimore, Md., had a promising freshman campaign in which he competed in five meets. Smith finished in the No. 4 spot for Villanova at the NCAA Championships, and also recorded two races in which he finished among the top 30. Smith was also extremely impressive at the Lafayette Invitational when he placed 22nd in the individual race, and at the Big East Championships when he finished 32nd.
"Cory has great potential," Tuppeny said. "He should continue to mature this season after an excellent freshman year, and should be a key contributor for us."
Supporters on this year's squad will be senior Rich Morris and junior Brock Butler. Morris, a native of Jackson, N.J., and Butler, a native of West Chester, Pa., each ran in three meets last year.
"Brock had never run cross country before arriving at Villanova," Tuppeny said. "The last two years have been a learning experience for him, but he's shown great promise. We expect him to improve even further this year and help out in every meet."
The Big East Conference race should be extremely tough, with Georgetown, Providence, St. John's and Notre Dame all fielding exceptional teams. The Friars, Red Storm and Fighting Irish all competed at the NCAA Championships a season ago, and will be even stronger in 1997.
"Our goal this season is to be competitive in the conference race," Marshall said. "If we can sneak into the top four, and possibly qualify for the NCAA Championships, that will mean great success for Villanova."