Flashback Friday looks at the top moments from the 2015-16 athletic year at the College of Staten Island. We continue the countdown this week with our number seven top moment, the CSI Men’s Cross Country team and their third consecutive CUNYAC Championship. Expectations were high coming in and the performances throughout the year lent themselves to high hopes, but tough conditions made sure that CSI would have to save its best performance for last.
#7 – Men’s Cross-Country overcomes tough conditions to stake third-straight CUNYAC title
Date: October 25, 2015
Who: CSI Men’s Cross-Country Team
Where: Van Cortlandt Park – Bronx, NY
What Happened: Defending a back-to-back championship, certainly CSI was looked at as the favorites going into the 2015 competitive year, especially with the return of a majority of their championship squad from a year prior. But as is always the case, the rest of the CUNYAC field came prepared and peaking in time for the Championship Meet at Van Cortlandt Park in late-October. To make matters worse, illness to top runner Andrew Scharf put the onus on CSI harriers Liam McMunn, Kenneth Morella and several others to carry the torch and make up the lost ground. On top of that, the chilly morning conditions coupled with dampness from rains the days before called for less than ideal race conditions. That meant that teams like CCNY, Hunter, and John Jay would all be expected to significantly close the gap. CSI, however, had other plans. Sophomore McMunn led the charge, posting CSI’s second fastest Van Cortlandt time all season with a race time of 30:00.02, finishing fifth overall and junior Morella blazed in at his fastest time all year just eight second behind McMunn to grab a Top 10 finish. Next to close was Scharf, who despite sickness came in at 30:32.3 and 10th place, and right on his heels were teammates Matthew Day and Samuel Obisanya. That helped CSI to a 45-point finish, good enough to nip CCNY by 17 points and Hunter College by 19 points to secure the title. CSI’s average time of 30:26 was their best team 8k time all season, lending more fuel to the notion that championship teams somehow find a way to save their best for last.
Q&A…with Liam McMunn
Having won two straight championships and returning almost your entire roster, you guys were definitely tabbed the favorite heading in. What is it like to have that sort of pressure on you coming in to a season? The pressure coming back into the season is tough on us because everyone is looking for us to gain another championship for CSI. But the pressure can also push us to go farther when we train, having the mentality to seek to win as a team. In the beginning of the season, we needed to show every team that we are the defending champs and that we never lost our touch in running. I use that sort of pressure and turn it as tool for me to keep moving forward and pushing myself to the limit so I can help my team find glory.
When you’ve already achieved so much as a team going into the season, what do you have to do in the offseason to make sure you are still trying to improve on race times and performances? The key is to keep moving. I keep myself in top shape by doing distance runs, speed workouts, working out my core, dynamic stretching, eating the right foods, and taking rest when my body is telling me that I need it . The most important key to improve on my times is motivation, without that running would be very difficult to do. Motivation helps us all reach our goals and every season I look for a Championship win and personal records for myself on every course I race.
Cross-country is a rather individual and solitary sport but teams must work together to achieve higher performances and results. Can you describe a little of that dynamic and how this team works together out there on the course that many folks might not see when watching a race? What people don’t see is that we are racing for certain places in the race. Every chance we see, we try to move up and pass as many runners as we possible can. If I see one of my teammate having a difficult time in the race I try to motivate them to keep their head held high and fight though the pain. We even run alongside each other to push each other for a better time. Even after the race, we cheer on our teammates who haven’t finished to give everything they have left and sprint for their lives. Cross-country may be an individual sport but together we achieve more as a team.
You and teammate Andrew Scharf are normally ahead of the pack and are top two performers almost weekly. When Andrew got ill it put a lot more focus on you as an anchor at the top. Did that put any pressure on you come time for the championship? I wasn’t really scared during the CUNY championship because I was prepared for the worst. When Andrew was ill, I knew that I had to step up and become the top guy for CSI. Anything can happen before the CUNY championship, that’s why I needed to prepare physically for the race and not stress out before or during the race. I needed to worry more on the race itself and how it was about to go down.
During the Championship meet itself what are your expectations going in? Obviously you are preparing for your opponents to race at their best, but are there any strategies you employed on that day that’s different from other races during the season, especially since it was rather cold and rainy that morning? Sometime you have to expect the unexpected in a race, even when going into a championship race. I knew that we were going to win CUNY champs again and I had no doubt in my mind that we as a team could win the CUNY Championship like we did two years in a row. Before the race, it was raining pretty hard and it was chilly, but that didn’t stop me. I tried to warm up my body so I wouldn’t be cold in the race, trying to keep the blood flowing. In the beginning of the race, I didn’t want to start out fast. I wanted to let everyone go because most people start a race fast. Then I would work my way up in the race, passing runners in the middle of the race. After that I would just hold my pace for as long as I can and try and pick off as many runners as I can for a good place for the team.
After the team performed the way it did, you had to think you had a great shot at the three-peat, what was is it like to know you had won the championship yet again? And for you personally what was it like knowing you were the top runner at the meet for CSI? It was the best feeling in the world, knowing that you and your team defied the odds and won the CUNY Championship yet again. I was so happy that my teammate did an amazing job in the race and for the seniors on winning a championship once more before they graduated. When I came to CSI, I never intended to join cross-country but then I changed my mind, knowing that I wanted to continue my running career for another four more years to prove that I have a lot left in me. I never expected that I would be a top runner at CSI when I arrived but I knew I could make it there. To become the top runner at CUNY for CSI is really an honor to have and all that hard work I did at practice paid off.
Despite the tremendous successes the team is still relatively young and returns a majority of talent in 2016. How excited are you for the upcoming season and what are some of your personal and team expectations for the upcoming year? I’m super excited for this upcoming season of cross-country. Personally I want to break my personal record I have in the 8k and win meets as a team. I can’t wait to have another successful season with my team. This year we’re going to stay strong, expect great times, perform the best that we can and show that we will gain another championship for CSI.