The Stony Brook men’s cross country team topped off its 2016 season by winning the America East Cross Country Championships, the team’s first since 2012, with a one-point win over Maine at Jerusalem Mills Park in Kingsville, Md.
The Seawolves are poised for a big 2017 season. Roster continuity and incoming talent should help the men’s team dominate the fall yet again.
Only one runner from last year’s championship squad graduated. Sophomore Cameron Avery, seniors Nick Cruz and Danny Connelly and sophomore Chris Biondi all finished within the top 10 at the conference championship in October and will look to lead the team once more.
Looking back on last year’s successful campaign, head coach Andy Ronan found it hard to fault the team’s performance.
“On the men’s side, we couldn’t have done much better,” Ronan said. “Went into the season ranked in the top three, we came out and won the championship by a point. Fell a little short in the regional meet, we figured we’d be top-10, we were just outside at 11th, but the exciting part was that we got better as the season progressed.”
Going into 2017, Ronan hopes his team’s talent and consistency will propel them into conference title contention once again, even with strong competition from schools like Binghamton and UMass Lowell.
“We have a very strong squad on the men’s side,” Ronan said. “They’re a year older, they’re a year stronger. Doesn’t mean that they’re going to walk away with the conference, but we’re going to be back in the equation again.”
Avery, a sophomore hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand, was the strongest runner on the men’s team last season. His third-place finish in the America East Championships earned him the conference’s Most Outstanding Rookie and First Team All-Conference Honors. Avery also fought to a 44th-place finish in the NCAA Northeast Regional on Nov. 11, 2016.
This men’s roster is as deep as it is talented, with seven runners returning who finished in the top 25 in last year’s title race. Senior Michael Watts, who only raced outdoor track last year, was added to the roster along with five freshmen.
“I think our chemistry is good,” Ronan said. “I think it’s great that we have two groups that have a passion for what they do. They’re going to have their moments, but overall once we line up they’re all on the same page. They know what they need to get done and they put their best foot forward.”
The men’s cross country team opened its season at home on Saturday, Sept. 2, taking first place in a 6K race against Fordham, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart. The Seawolves’ 19 points were 39 ahead of second-place Quinnipiac, who finished with 58 points.
Stony Brook sophomore Vann Moffett won the 6k with an 18:24.07 finishing time. Biondi and sophomore Kyle Kelly finished third and fourth, while Cruz rounded out the top-five with a time of 18:32.01.
The Stony Brook women’s cross country team finished strongly last season, with a second place finish in the America East Championships. While the team had three top-five individual finishes at the Championships, they may have a harder time finding similar success this year without two key runners from last season.
“On the women’s side, by the end of the season we were running very well,” Ronan said. “We had started the season with some injury problems, and actually the conference meet [Oct. 29] was the first time we had the whole team on the line. But we were in the mix like we have been pretty much every year for the past 12 years.”
Women’s Cross Country is looking for big contributions from their younger runners after last year’s turnover. If the Seawolves find success, they will have to do it without last year’s senior standouts Christine Eisenberg and Christina Melian. Melian was the team’s best runner in 2016, earning a spot in the NCAA Championships and a nomination for NCAA Woman of the Year, while Eisenberg was named to the NCAA’s All Region Team.
Ronan did not mince words when discussing the difficulties his team could have trying to replace their two matriculated stars.
“So we lost two big guns on the woman’s side going into this season,” Ronan said. “This will be, I won’t say a total rebuilding year, but we will be looking for some of the younger people to step up.”
The coach is hopeful some of the team’s younger players can take the next step from promising prospect to full-blown phenom.
“With the woman’s side, Annika Sisson will be expected to lead the group,” Ronan said. “Then I expect the twins of Tiana and Talia Guevara to take a step into the top 10 in the conference.”
After 18 years coaching Stony Brook’s cross country teams, Ronan believes maturity more than anything else is crucial for a truly great runner.
“I think it’s all about physical maturity, and I think it’s all about mental maturity,” Ronan said. “From season to season looking at what you’ve done and working on the areas you need to work on. I think the maturity leads to the attitude, how they come back from summer training prepared to move to the next level.”
The women started off their 2017 season with a first-place finish at the Stony Brook Season Opener on Saturday, Sept 2. The team finished with 33 points and five runners placing in the top 10.
Senior twins Tiana and Talia Guevara led the way with second and fourth-place finishes, posting times of 13:56.71 and 14:04.88 respectively. Sophomore Clodagh O’Reilly finished eighth, while juniors Alexandria Ortega and Holly Manning placed ninth and tenth.
Players to Watch (Mike Watts and Annika Sisson)
While Avery is a near-lock to lead the men’s side through the 2017 season, newly returned Watts may be the Seawolves’ wild card.
Watts was a five-year letterman distance runner at Islip High School. He also made a mark on cross country back in his 2014 freshman season, with a time of 25:38.2 in the 8K America East Championships, good for a 17th place finish.
The Long Island native has been running for Stony Brook ever since but stuck to outdoor track and field last year. Watts had a strong season in outdoor track, taking second in the 3000 meter run at the Wolfie Invitational in April and winning the 5000 meter run at the America East Outdoor Championships with a 14:36.25 finishing time.
However, Watts is no stranger to distance running and his return could be the spark that helps lead the Men’s Cross Country team to another successful season.
Annika Sisson, a Pittsburgh native and standout at Missouri’s Summit West High School, is expected to take the next step and emerge as a team leader on the women’s side.
Coming from the University of Arkansas as a transfer last year, Sisson made an immediate impact for the Seawolves. She placed second in the 5K race at the Wolfie Invitational, her first race as a Seawolf, with a time of 19:35.9.
The Seawolf finished fourth in the America East Championships, earning First Team All-Conference Honors in addition to competing in the NCAA Northeast Regional. Sisson’s contributions at the two meets were only outdone by Eisenberg and Melian.
Sisson also had strong seasons in both indoor and outdoor track. She won six events between the two, including the 1500 meter race at the America East Outdoor Championships and the mile at the America East Indoor Championships. Ronan and company will be hoping Sisson can take her winning pedigree into cross country this season.