Home EMU cross country men looking to reach new heights

EMU cross country men looking to reach new heights


emu-sports-newThe way EMU cross country coach Jason Lewkowicz sees it, his men’s cross country team only scratched the surface of what they are capable of during the 2013 season. That is saying something, considering that EMU’s men entered the regional rankings for the first time in recent history and finished tenth at the South/Southeast Regional meet.

Lewkowicz said last year’s team took time to gel, as it was comprised mostly of freshmen and transfers. But he expects the best ODAC and regional team finishes in his tenure will springboard the Royals into 2014.

“We made great progress as a team over the course of last season,” explained Lewkowicz. “With the entire team back this year, in addition to a few newcomers, we have even higher goals for this season, which includes competing for an ODAC championship and top-5 region finish.”

Seniors Ryan Gehman (Millersville, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite) and Jacob Landis (Sterling, Ill./Sterling) figure to lead the team’s fortunes this year. They hope to put a fine ending stamp on collegiate careers which started as freshmen at Hesston College in Kansas. Gehman transferred to Montreat College for his sophomore season before both came to EMU last fall. Landis only ran a few races as a junior, as he recovered from an injury, but both men managed to earn All-Region recognition at the end of the season. Gehman was also eighth at the ODAC Championships for All-ODAC Second Team.
“Their success is crucial if we want to contend with Bridgewater and W&L for an ODAC title,” Lewkowicz said of Gehman and Landis. “With that said, we also have for the first time legitimate depth and I look for several of our sophomore runners to have breakout seasons. They had a small taste of success last year and I think the guys are hungry to really see how far they can go with this thing. This is the most talented and deep group we have had in my time here and this could be our year to seize greatness!”

Jesse Parker (Wichita, Kan./Wichita East) is also back for his senior year, and figures to battle with sophomores Alec Thibodeaux (Staunton, Va./Fort Defiance), Jonathan Nisly (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton), Jared Nisly (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite), Jordan Leaman (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) and Robert Cook (Lexington, Va./Parry McCluer) for the top seven. Throw in talented freshmen Israel Lockhart (Winchester, Va./Millbrook) and Steven Anhold (Churchville, Va./Fort Defiance), and Eastern Mennonite finally has the luxury of depth.
“It will be a great competitive atmosphere within the team and will surely bring out the best in everyone,” said Lewkowicz.

Entering his fourth year at EMU, Lewkowicz has set lofty goals for his men.

“At minimum we are targeting a top-2 ODAC finish and top-5 Region finish, with at least one NCAA qualifier,” he explained. “But our top end goals would be ODAC Champions with multiple NCAA qualifiers.”

Lewkowicz pointed out that the early season races mean very little for his athletes other than to get them prepared for the handful of meets in November. With that in mind, he built a schedule heavy on repeat courses as well as layouts designed to encourage healthy bodies by season’s end.

The Royals are giving their local fans a double take of chances to see them run this year, as they will have two home meets at Elk Run Trails in Elkton. EMU co-hosts the Shenandoah Valley Invitational with Bridgewater on Sept. 20, and will also have a one-of-a-kind event on Oct. 10. On the Friday of EMU’s Homecoming Weekend, the Royals will host a relay challenge, featuring teams of four runners, with each athlete maneuvering a two-mile loop.

Guilford College is hosting the ODAC meets this year in Greensboro, N.C., with the Preview on Aug. 29 and the Championships on Nov. 1. The South/Southeast Regionals are in Rome, Ga., on Nov. 15, with the National Championships in Mason, Ohio, on Nov. 22. In the expectation of sending runners to the national meet, Lewkowicz also scheduled the teams for the D-III Pre-Nationals, hosted by Wilmington College on Sept. 27 on the same course which will field nationals.

Lewkowicz feels his efforts at rebuilding the EMU cross country programs are hitting their stride in 2014.

“To finally get to the point of having talent and strong depth is something we’ve been working towards for three years now,” Lewkowicz said. “We will address our goals during preseason week and then push them to the side as we continue about the hard work that it will take to reach those goals.”

He also pointed to higher goals than simply running a good race.

“Talent aside, we have a tremendous group of individuals on this team and they will be great representatives of EMU whether we are competing, serving others in the community, or engaging with others on campus,” he explained. “As with all of my past teams, my greatest hope is that we can collectively honor God with our efforts and run for His glory as we seek to be excellence through the gifts He has given us.”



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