MOUNT PLEASANT – If the 2011 season is any indicator, the men's cross country team has a bright future in store.
Sophomore Tecumseh Adams won the individual Mid-American Conference Championship, finished 69th at the NCAA National Championships and led a team stacked with underclassmen to a second-place finish at the MAC Championships and a seventh place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships.
“What he's done is put the stamp back on the CMU distance tradition, which has been a strong area for us for many years,” assistant coach Matt Kaczor said. “He's just one of those special guys you're excited to see. It's really difficult in our sport to get out (of the regional meet) as an individual, and for him to do it is a huge accomplishment.”
Though Adams, who ran a 30:33 on the 10K course in Terre Haute, Ind., fell short of his ultimate goal of All-America honors, Kaczor said the experience was still a great one for the sophomore runner.
“You'd love to bring home an All-America certificate but he's got the experience now, and I think he's hungry and knows what its like to be in that situation,” said Kaczor.
Joining Adams in leading a stable of young runners was veteran junior Jason Drudge, who finished sixth in a career-best 24:41.8 at the 8K MAC Championships to claim first-team All-MAC honors for the second consecutive year. Drudge finished runner up to Adams in three of the five meets in which both runners participated, and led the Chippewas at the season-opening 5K Jeff Drenth Memorial with a fifth place finish.
Following a 2010 season in which the Chippewas finished eighth of nine in the MAC and 19th of 31 at Regionals, a crop of redshirted runners became eligible to compete this season, a move carefully calculated by Kaczor and the cross country coaching staff.
“Last year we took the hit so that we could redshirt runners, get everyone in line, and get everyone developed the right way so we could start making runs at MAC Championships and finishes at Regionals that would give us the idea of going to Nationals,” he said.
The plan came to fruition this season, with Adams, who himself was redshirted last season, leading a group of runners that included four redshirt freshman, two juniors and two sophomores who regularly competed for top-five scoring positions for the Chippewas.
Junior Matt Lutzke performed well coming off a redshirt for the Chippewas, finishing in the CMU top-five in four of the five races in which he ran. His top performance was a 24th place finish at the Spartan Invitational in mid-September that was good for second on the team.
Highlighting a very promising young core of runners was redshirt freshman Kyle Stacks, who finished in the CMU top five in three of the four races in which he competed. In finishing 34th overall and second for CMU at the regional meet, Stacks was the fastest freshman in a very strong Great Lakes Region.
“You're definitely looking at a really good kid who hopefully can help this team go as a group to NCAA's next year,” Kaczor said.
Sophomore Nathan Huff also provided consistency for the Chippewas, and highlighted his season with a 17th place finish at the 8K MAC Championships in a career-best 24:59.
It took the squad until the middle of the season to finally gel as a team after runners were introduced at different races throughout the beginning of the season. The turning point for the season came at the Pre-National meet in Terre Haute in mid-October, where the men finished 17th in a 35-team field littered with nationally-ranked teams.
“We weren't as happy with that performance as we wanted to be,” Kaczor said. “There were good teams there, but we thought we were a good team, too. We just didn't have the performances from the guys, one through five, that we wanted. Really, it was a good point for that to happen, because it really got them buckled down and focused with the championship schedule coming up."
The Chippewas showed what they were capable as a team at the MAC meet. With Lutzke encouraging the young runners to hold tight as a pack and move through the field as Adams ran from the front for an individual MAC Championship, they finished runner-up to Eastern Michigan.
CMU got its chance to prove itself again at the regional meet, where the men finished seventh overall out of 31 teams – nine spots ahead of MAC Champion Eastern Michigan.
“We ended on a positive note this year,” Kaczor said. “It didn't end with a period this year, or a letdown with a question mark asking whether we're going in the right direction. I think we put an exclamation point at the end of the season. We now know what we can do, now we have to stay focused all year long because next year our goal is even higher.”
With every runner eligible to return next season, big things are expected from the future of the exceptionally young men's cross country team for years to come.
“Those guys now know what it's going to take after being a part of it at the regional meet and then watching it with Tecumseh at the national meet,” Kaczor said. “They kind of see what it's all about and what I've been talking about for the past couple of years about what it means to be at the next level. It's an exciting time for our program right now.”