Young team not short on talent
Two. That’s how many scorers the Idaho cross country men return from their 2011 WAC Championship third place team.
Seniors Barry Britt and Jeff Osborn lead a team composed of five underclassmen in addition to the two seniors. The 2012 team is small and young, but if the first two meets of the season are any indication, the team is not short on talent.
The Vandals placed third in their first two meets of the season, the Clash of the Inland Northwest in Spokane and the Sundodger Invitational in Seattle. Washington and Washington State, two of the teams that beat them, are also two of the West Region’s top 10 teams.
“I think after losing the number of seniors that we did, maybe the expectation from some other teams would be that we’d be down,” Idaho coach Wayne Phipps said. “I think for the start of the year we’re where we would anticipate being with new people.”
Out of the runners the Vandals lost from last year, Markus Geiger was a top-five runner in the WAC and Jeremiah Dubie was a top- 10 runner. The Vandals also lost Stephane Colle, Alex Brekke and James Clark.
“We lost a great group of guys … running without them for the first time you realize how much you do miss them,” Phipps said. “But the new people that we’ve brought in and the returners have done a great job in the summertime working really hard, and I think by the end of the year that we’re going to be as good of a team this year as we were last year.”
Britt is Idaho’s key returner from a year ago, when he finished second in the WAC Championships. He is the top returning runner in the WAC and a leader of the team this year.
“I think being (at the WAC Championships) and having done it before, there’s not that question mark of what it’s like,” Britt said. “It gives me confidence. I think I’m a lot more prepared (for this year).”
Britt is not always a vocal leader, but instead leads by example and hopes the younger runners are encouraged by his success and work ethic.
“I try to make all my little habits visible to the guys,” he said. “Hopefully they see that and they think ‘oh man, I want to get there.’”
The new runners on the men’s side are not only racing faster runners at the collegiate level but also have to adjust to the longer race distance.
“The biggest (challenge) on the men’s side is the bump up in racing distance,” Phipps said. “You’re used to 3 miles or 5k and all of a sudden … you’re expected to run the same speed for 5k all the way through 8k.”
The increase in racing distance hasn’t been a problem for Idaho’s top newcomer, freshman Santos Vargas from Yakima, Wash. Vargas was the No. 2 runner for the Vandals at the Sundodger Invitational, finishing 17th in 24:53.39.
“I was prepared pretty well (in high school),” Vargas said. “Running in high school, I did a lot of mileage, so coming to college I had a bit of a background set for me already. I feel like I’ve adjusted pretty well.”
The Vandals’ next test is Sept. 29 at Oregon, where the young team will compete in the prestigious Dellinger Invitational.
“I like where we’re at, I like the way we’re progressing and I expect to see huge improvements from Sundodger to our conference (championship) meet,” Phipps said.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org