Going the distance: Power-packed sophomore class thrusts SU cross country into spotlight

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ As Tito Medrano hit the halfway mark of the 8-kilometer Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on Oct. 3, he caught a glimpse of his coach, Chris Fox. For Fox, Syracuse’s cross country and track and field head coach, reality began to seep in.His unranked team — led by the sophomore Medrano and three other second-year standouts in Griff Graves, Pat Dupont and Zach Rivers — was coasting to an easy win over No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 10 Georgetown. With the win in hand, Fox couldn’t hold back celebration.‘He’s just jumping around screaming, ‘We’re going to win, we’re going to win!” Medrano said. ‘At that point I just had a really great feeling we were going to do great that year.’At the head of the Orange pack was Medrano. The team victory was in tow. And a crowning accomplishment for a loaded sophomore class was achieved. After second- and first-place finishes in SU’s first two meets to start the season, the quartet led the Orange to a victory in its biggest race of the year. And collegiate cross country was forced to take notice. Syracuse’s second-year runners were as good as any group of sophomores in the country. Propelled by Medrano, Graves, Dupont and Rivers, the Orange’s stacked class brought a team poised for a breakthrough into the national spotlight. AdvertisementThis is placeholder text‘We came into that meet at Wisconsin, who’s a traditional power in our sport, and dominated,’ Fox said.  ‘We didn’t just win, we won easy, and the guys just kind of crushed and that set the tone for the rest of the year.’But the showing in Wisconsin wasn’t unexpected. After Fox secured the commitments of Medrano, Graves, Dupont and Rivers for his 2008 recruiting class, hints at the possibilities surfaced.Medrano noticed them even before he came to Syracuse. Before he ever spoke to Fox on an official visit. Medrano had an inkling that this could be a special group.‘I went to visit about six schools total,’ Medrano said. ‘At every single one of those schools when they asked me what other schools I was looking at and I said, ‘Syracuse,’ they said, ‘Oh, the coach there is really good. Coach Fox is a really good coach. If you’re not going to come here, go there.”After hearing that Medrano’s fellow national high school standout in Graves had committed to Syracuse, Medrano signed with the team, followed by Dupont and Rivers. All four high school runners finished within the top 33 at the 2007 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships — arguably the most prestigious high school cross country meet in the nation.The four knew Syracuse cross country was not one of the strongest programs, but their goal was to make it one.Two years later, the teammates own the first Big East title and NCAA Northeast Regional title in Syracuse men’s cross country history.‘We recruited those guys with the thought that maybe by the time they were juniors we could win the Big East,’ Fox said. ‘We just happened to win it when they were sophomores.’When the teammates entered their freshman year in 2008, Syracuse ranked third among Northeast teams in the preseason polls released by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Even with solid senior leadership that season, Medrano, Graves and Dupont were still adjusting to Syracuse and building endurance for collegiate competition. Rivers only raced once that season, while the trio of Medrano, Dupont and Graves combined to race in 12 meets. The men finished in fifth place at both the Big East championship and NCAA Northeast Regional, while the women’s team advanced to the NCAA Championship, giving the men extra motivation for the 2009 season.‘We thought we could do that the year before, but things just didn’t happen, so we came in hungry and a little bit angry about that,’ Medrano said.Following their freshman seasons, Dupont and Medrano qualified for the 37th annual IAAF World Cross Country Championships during the summer in Amman, Jordan, where they represented the United States among other junior runners. Dupont and Medrano finished 48th and 62nd, respectively, out of 117 runners. That experience, coupled with the disappointment from the previous fall, sparked their determination for a championship-caliber season.Prior to the 2009 season, Fox set a goal for his team: to finish among the top three in the Big East. Yet, as the season progressed, it became apparent he underestimated its ability.‘We went into this season hoping to be top three in the Big East, and about halfway through the season we figured out we should win this thing,’ Fox said. The realization came in the form of that win in Wisconsin. It was a win that catapulted the Orange to the No. 11 spot in the USTFCCCA national polls. SU dominated at the Big East championship and NCAA Northeast Regional before competing in the first NCAA Championship in 35 years.  Medrano earned All-American status after finishing 39th out of 250 runners, while the team finished 14th out of 31 teams and Fox was named Northeast Region Coach of the Year. With the honor, Medrano became SU’s first cross country All-American in 27 years.Dupont, Graves and Medrano each contributed to the record-setting season with top performances in five of the team’s eight meets, creating the dominant trio Fox had envisioned.Now that the sophomore trio has helped the Orange achieve something it has never done, the challenge is even greater.‘We’re really building a great base, and since we’re only sophomores we’ll be leaders next year as juniors, and that’s what Coach is expecting from us,’ Graves said. ‘We’ve done a lot and we’re not young anymore. We’ve got to compete with the best out there. It’s no more, ‘You’re a freshman.’ We’ve got to get out there and compete with the best.’ This offseason, the sophomores have been working on strength and developing an aerobic metabolism to stay free of injuries in order to build on their successes from last fall. Dupont credits Fox with allowing the team to develop and mature at its own pace and providing individual guidance for training and conditioning.For example, Medrano runs at a snail’s pace on his ‘slow days,’ while Graves likes to always run high mileages. And Dupont likes to keep his mileage low.They are specific plans made by specific runners. But come fall 2010, the four rising juniors are hoping for a reoccurrence of fall 2009. A fall where four sophomores led SU to its greatest season ever. As a team.‘(Coach Fox) knows not every runner is the same and he’s willing to let us do our own thing and make sure we all know where we need to be,’ Dupont said. ‘… The fact that we’ve all been able to do our own thing but still come together and make this happen is pretty exciting.’jcmccaff@syr.edu Commentscenter_img Published on April 19, 2010 at 12:00 pmlast_img

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