The College of Staten Island men’s and women’s cross-country teams will be in action for the first time this season this weekend at Van Cortlandt Park to take part in the Baruch College Invitational, and when they do, big things will be in store for both programs, with the men defending a three-year championship and the women ready to soar to new heights with the coming year ahead.

There is ample reason to be excited.  The race season is a rather short one, but the Dolphins feel they are able to pack a punch.  Head Coach Robert Russo has championed a three-year title run with his men’s unit, and the team is still a relatively young one, with a majority of its championship roster as anchors entrenched in the lineup.  That includes 2014 Performer of the Year Andrew Scharf, and All-Stars Liam McMunn and Kenneth Morella.  Not only has the group won CUNYAC titles in each of the past three years, but all have progressively set personal bests on the courses, and Russo expects the times to continue to improve.

“Our core unit of three all-stars and coming in pumped up and motivated for another championship,” said Russo.  “We lost some talent but our new talent coming in will continue to keep us strong.  I still think our returners have the potential to keep improving and athletically we are as motivated as ever.”

The men’s unit is one that will substitute quantity for quality.  The rather small unit is still a tremendous contender, especially when you add the likes of Javier Viruel, who is expected to all put up great marks in his CSI debut this season. That has the coach very excited, not only for 2016, but in the future beyond that as well.

“We have guys who bring success from the high school level and now that our younger runners are starting their collegiate careers, they will continue that upward improvement,” the coach said.  “It could help us be very strong by the end of the year.  We have a small squad number but the quality is there and we can progress very nicely.”

Speaking of progression, that will be the case and then some for the women’s unit.  Two years ago, thanks to an influx of basketball talent, CSI peaked at the No. 2 position at the annual CUNYAC Championship.  But injuries and smaller roster size a year ago saw the team dip dramatically.  The coach is expecting a tremendous jump back at the top again in 2016, complete with valuable returners and a heavy recruiting class that can all contend for big finishes in 2016.

“I am very excited,” the coach said.  “This is probably our largest incoming class we have had and we finally have the depth we need.  We have grown and we have a lot of potential to be competitive.  Last year was disappointing that we didn’t reach our full potential but I think we have been able to make it up.”

Alongside just two returning stars in Rebecca Vidal and Clara Hernandez look for newcomers like Valerie Mondiello, Brianna Benjamin and two-sport star Tristiana Adragna to add an impact right away.  

Like the men, the CSI women will be battling for positioning all year, constantly expecting to out-do personal best performances while getting acclimated to familiar terrains on the cross-country circuit.  The more the athletes race, the better acclimated they get to their surroundings and the better the race times, according to Russo.  That combination is critical to CSI’s success according to the coach.

“With each race we can target improvement areas and get a bit more competitive, not just learning the courses, but also the competition,” the coach explained.  “That experience leads to confidence and that confidence leads to improvement.  Come championship time I expect our best races and to certainly compete for another title.  I think our men can target improvement regionally and nationally and I feel our women are going to surprise a lot of folks this year.” 

After the Dolphins get underway this weekend they will race just about every weekend until the CUNYAC Championship in late-October.  In the subsequent weeks after, CSI has intentions of racing at the ECAC Division III Championship and the NCAA Division III Regional in mid-November.  Smack in the middle of their season, the Dolphins will host their own invitational at Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island on October 9, at 10:00 am.  The adjusted course will feature a 6k race for the women, and an 8k race for the men.