Coming off arguably one of its best years in program history, the College of Staten Island men’s and women’s cross-country programs will be seeking even greater heights this season, and figure to have all of the tools necessary for another spirited championship run. The CSI men repeated as CUNYAC Champions a season ago, and bring back nearly their entire squadron in 2015, while the CSI women, CUNYAC Runners-Up a year ago, will have the rest of the conference in their sights once again when they take to the terrain.
For head coach Robert Russo, what made 2014 so sweet was the unbelievable youth on the squads a year ago. The Dolphins graduated no seniors in 2014 and many of the key faces return. For Russo, not only does this mean the competitive level will be high out of the gates, but the threshold for improvement continues to be the focus.
“Last year was our best season on both sides and having that young team back means our competitive level will be high but our experience will be where we need it to be,” said Russo. “The athletes all got a taste of championship-caliber racing and they are pumped out to keep that momentum going.”
On the men’s side, CSI rode the impressive freshmen duo of Andrew Scharf, the CUNYAC Rookie of the Year and Liam McMunn a year ago, and add to that the incredible performances of Kenneth Morella, Matthew Day, Khaled Halwani and Samuel Obisanya, and the Dolphins are in business once again in 2015. Obisanya is the lone senior, and according to Russo, many of the top performances for the lot are still ahead of them.
“I am very optimistic as far as how well we can potentially race this year,” said Russo. “Last year we had a lot of athletes in their first or second competitive year of collegiate running and all showed tremendous promise to get better and better. The amount of work they have put in to the off-season, knowing what they all need to do to improve and knowing what they will be up against, has us very excited for the future of the program. We have a very good core coming back.”
On the women’s side, the Dolphins got a healthy infusion of women’s basketball players a year ago, and the team made quite a splash, together with entrenched runners like senior Victoria Barry and Rebecca Vidal, basketballers Victoria Gallinaro, Frances Gonzalez, and multi-sport dynamo Victoria Crea gave the Dolphins a tremendous boost in 2014, one that put them on the championship doorstep.
“This year’s team has a lot more synergy and confidence now knowing what we were able to accomplish last year,” the coach noted. “The proof of success was the spark our program needed. We have a great mix of seasoned runners with relative newcomers who are building confidence, and to be able to train and work together towards common goals and results will make us that much better this season.”
Can the Dolphins go over the top in 2015? According to Russo, an infusion of new faces on both sides will give CSI immediate credibility. Look for standouts Michael Jachcinski and Omair Ali to make an immediate impact on the men’s side, while first-year runners Kristina Morel, Natalie Sabalza and Clara Hernandez lead a strong collection of new faces on the women’s side that will add depth and scoring power. Russo is confident that by the end of the season, his freshmen lot will see a huge improvement, which he hopes translates to a championship.
“I’m pleasantly surprised by what I am seeing and the level of spirit and dedication the teams have,” Russo said. “We are coming together quickly and it should play out to a successful season for us.”
Once they are out on the field, Russo wants to see his team improve with each race, growing accustomed to the track and staying focused within individual targets designed to improve the team overall.
“I always emphasize the theory of running smart whether it is training or racing,” the coach said. “Knowing your boundaries, knowing when to make a move, looking at the competition, are all things we want to do when we race and a lot of that is mental. You certainly want to have that competitive edge and our team does. We have the ability and the talent to carry us at meets, so we will use basic strategy of planning ahead, focusing, and running smart races.”
CSI will start their season at the Baruch College Invitational at the very familiar Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, NY, on September 6. A week later they will host their own 5k Invitational at Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island. The team will see stops at Sunken Meadow Park for the St. Joseph’s College Invitational and will also travel to Bard College for another off-site meet. The CUNYAC Championship is set for October 25 at Van Cortlandt, with the ECAC and NCAA Regional Championships slated for the following weekends in November.