Despite age, cross country sees leadership from underclassmen

The 2014 men’s cross country season was “the year of the freshmen,” according to sophomore Justin Sommer.

Sommer and fellow sophomore Collin Greenseich were consistently among the Lakers’ top finishers during their rookie campaigns. Sommer put in the third-best 6K time in school history in his collegiate debut at SUNY Polytechnic, then SUNYIT, on Aug. 30, 2014. Greenseich finished his season strong with the team’s best time at the 2014 NCAA Div. III Atlantic Regionals.

This season is the year of possibilities for Oswego State.

The team has added a five-man freshmen class, including reigning Laker of the Week Dylan McCarthy. The Lakers have finished fourth or better in each of their first three competitions. They are feeding off chemistry as much as talent, despite being a team made up of mostly underclassmen.

“We hang out a lot,” Greenseich said. “…I have classes with a lot of people on the team, track and cross. We go to dinner together everyday [and] lunch. We always go to Cooper together after practice and eat together.”

Upperclassmen Tyler Morris, a junior, and Ben Griffin, a senior, have been among Oswego State’s top seven finishers at each event so far, but the youth on the team continues to lead the way. Besides Sommer, Greenseich and McCarthy, Tim Olmstead and Nicholas Leclair, both freshmen, have plugged themselves into the regular leaders as well.

The quick adjustment to college life has been noticeable both on and off the track for the new rookie class. Greenseich was open about the fact that this was not the case for him as a newcomer.

“They fit in really well,” Greenseich said. “I know last year, in the beginning, it took me a little bit longer to move on from my high school friends to developing friends and developing a new team from my high school team. At this point, I feel like these people have been on the team forever and last year I didn’t feel like I had been on the team forever. It took me until track to feel like I was a part of this team.”

The fluid transition may be in part due to the mentality of the team’s first-year head coach. Sarah Ritchie was hired during the summer after three seasons as an assistant coach at her alma mater, the College at Brockport. She picked two senior captains this season, yet still views her team as 18 runners.

“A lot of these kids have been running since seventh or eighth grade,” Ritchie said. “They have a lot of experience with it. It’s about personal success, but the team drives it at the same time. So, if they want to achieve greatness then they put in the work, and hopefully their teammates follow along and I think that’s where the leadership comes from with our seniors. They really are putting in the hard work and are dedicated to the team.”

The hard work has paid off early in the season as Oswego State has turned in equal or better performances at each meet.
The team’s fourth-place finish at Roberts Wesleyan College’s Anderson Invite was in large part due to the efforts of the younger runners. Four of the team’s top five were freshmen or sophomores. The growing expectations are familiar to McCarthy, who led the way at the Rochester-area event.

“In high school, I was part of a young team through freshmen and sophomore year and we were told a lot of the same things, that we have a lot of potential,” McCarthy said. “So, right now it sort of feels like the same thing and it’s making me feel a lot more comfortable being here.”

McCarthy feels like he can approach any of his teammates when he has a question. He enjoys being a part of such a deep roster after spending much of his junior and senior years at Liverpool High School, near Syracuse, feeling close to just the few runners that ran at an equal pace.

“In high school, for the last two years, I was in the top seven and it seemed like we were so much further ahead than everyone else, so I was really with six other guys the entire time that were really close,” McCarthy said. “Now, it feels like the entire team is really close, so it’s a lot more comfortable.”

McCarthy and the other four freshmen have pushed Oswego State to the level of a true contender at both SUNYACs and regionals in the mind of this year’s squad. The team won the SUNY Polytechnic Invite for the second consecutive year, but the gap it opened up showed how much growth has already occurred.

Sommer has finished in the top five at the Utica, N.Y. meet each season and believes that a continuation of the success to start the 2015 campaign may mean greater successes down the road.

“Just to see from last year the improvement in the team and the spread between us [and the rest of the field] at SUNY Polytechnic, it was 30 seconds between our top five,” Sommer said. “That’ll help just because not only will you move up, but you’ll bring your whole team. Everybody will move up with you, and that’ll be a whole lot of points when it comes down to the big meets.”

The men’s head coach echoes her sophomore standout’s confidence. The team she took over finished sixth out of 10 schools at SUNYACs in 2014, but a large leap forward is possible. It’s just up to the team to deliver.
“Our reach goal is top three,” Ritchie said. “We decided that in preseason. But, I always let them set their goals. It’s about them. They’re the ones putting in the work. I’m just there holding the stopwatch and to get them to the meet. I always say that’s my job.”

Ritchie knows her team can do it because Oswego State is not focused on individual accolades, but rather on acheiving success together.

“With the way they’re working out, the way they’re working as a team, I think that’s a huge difference this year,” Ritchie said. “You really help the person next to you. You’re not racing the person next to you. When you’re on the line, you have 15 teammates. It’s not 15 other opponents.”