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August 17, 2010

Q&A: A look at the upcoming cross country season with head coach Ben Thomas

By: Matt Kovatch

Junior Will Mulherin has had an award-winning career on the track and is hoping to add a cross country title to his resume this season.

The Virginia Tech men’s and women’s cross country teams don’t open their seasons until Sept. 3, but head coach Ben Thomas sat down in early August to shed some light on whom to watch out for this season.

IHS: The men’s team lost a pair of four-year stalwarts in Devin Cornwall and Paul LaPenna. Whom do you see filling their shoes this year?

BT: I’m really excited about Will Mulherin coming off an All-America performance in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA outdoor championships. He really wants to go all out to win an ACC title in cross country. I think he can run with anybody in the league on any given day. I think Michael Hammond could be there with him as well. He’s been an ACC champion on the track. It’s going to be Michael and Will driving the train this year.

IHS: The key to success in cross country is good balance, so which guys are you counting on to fill in the pack?

BT: Brian Welch is a guy who’s been in the top five in the ACC in the 5,000 meters on the track. He certainly has the potential to be an all-region or all-conference performer in cross country. Eddie Judge has experience and Chris Walizer had a nice performance in the 1,500 meters on the track last spring. Then there is Jared Berman, who was 10th at the world juniors in the steeplechase. He certainly could be a surprise, all-conference type of runner for us if he continues to develop.

IHS: Are you expecting any newcomers to make an impact?

BT: We have some high-level freshmen coming in. Kevin Dowd made the Foot Locker nationals last year and they only take the top 32 in the nation to that meet. Another guy who could be an ‘x-factor’ for us is Yazid Zouaiama, who was one of the top indoor two-milers in the state of Virginia. They would have to come together quickly for us to have a chance at an ACC title and a trip to the nationals.

IHS: How much do you look at performance on the track as an audition for cross country?

BT: It’s not a guarantee, but it’s certainly an indicator. It gives them a little bit of a psychological boost in that the same guys they’re beating on the track are the same guys they’re facing on the cross country course. We’ve had a lot of success from younger runners on the track, so I’m hoping we can compete for an ACC title or certainly be back in the top three.

IHS: The women’s team was in rebuilding mode last year, but how do you feel about the progress they’ve made?

BT: It’s still a pretty young group, but I feel good about them. If we stay healthy, we’ll be much better than we were last year.

IHS: Whom have you seen the most development out of?

BT: I think for Frances Dowd, it took a year for her to get into a consistent training routine, but she’s one who could really help us coming from a middle-distance background. Lauren Pinkston also ran a lot of middle distance for us, but she’s gotten a lot better at sustaining the longer stuff. Sammy Dow is going to be a key to our success, and Casey Gresham really developed nicely by the end of her freshman year.

IHS: It sounds like you also have a great group of freshmen joining the fold.

BT: We have a really good class of longer distance runners coming in. We’re going to be dependent on them to be contributors right away, and I think they’ll be able to do that because of how talented they are. Paige Kvartunas, Courtney Dobbs and Madalyn Nuckols are the big three that we’ve got. Paige made the Foot Locker nationals last year, while Courtney and Madalyn were both under 18 minutes for five kilometers in cross country, in addition to being two of the stronger two-milers in the state last spring.

For The Official Cross Country Roster click here.

For the Official Cross Country Schedule click here.