Cross Country roster blossoms
The 2023 season is one of great potential for the men’s and women’s cross-country teams with the size of their rosters and competitive hopes increasing.
This year’s women’s roster features eight athletes, including first-year Katherine Kohtala. This is an improvement upon their five-athlete side from the prior season. In recent memory, the roster was at its largest in 2018 when former coach Michael McGrane brought in 11 women. Where numbers have improved is with the men’s team, which has nine members this season. This is a major step up on the last few seasons. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the men’s side has yet to feature more than five athletes.
“I was still a senior here when that happened and I did not compete. So I was still associated with the team, but I wasn’t on campus or anything and I did see how small the team was. Then, I came back my first year after graduating and the numbers for cross country were decent, but then a lot of those were more on the girls’ side,” Head Cross Country Coach Ben Biello said. “Mens’ was small since then so it’s been a good three years in total of building that up.”
While this year’s rosters feature five first-years, a major hurdle for this team to clear coming in was recruiting. According to Biello, when he took the reins from Ricky Igbani in February 2022, there was little he could do because of how late into the school year he took over. Biello attributed much of the success to the recruiting program he used from Tudor Collegiate Strategies.
“At that point, pretty much everyone had made their decision,” Biello said. “So that was when I had just started to focus on the next class and it paid off because I was in contact with them for a while and now they’re here.”
A larger roster brings clear competitive advantages to previous iterations. In cross country, a team scores based on their top five finishers in a particular race, so the more athletes you have running, the higher your chance to score well and the less pressure put on each runner. This has translated to a third-place finish for both teams at the Colby-Sawyer Charger Invitational.
“The program’s growth and added internal competition have changed things for me competitively. Since there is faster talent coming in, the focus goes to them, so you have to prove yourself more to the rest of the team and coaches,” senior Eftihia Fotos said.
According to Biello, the men’s and women’s sides will be contending for several Great Northeast Athletic Conference titles in the next few seasons. While he feels the men need a few more pieces, this season begins the women’s run.
“The women can get after this. It’s gonna be a battle down to the very end, but I think it is within their reach to go get a championship this year,” Biello said.
The cross country season is not the only goal for this group, as the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons close behind. Biello cited many athletes such as Dillon Ramirez, Darius Vincent, Jordan Woodley, and Luigi Gentile who compete in mid-distance events being helped by this opportunity.
“They’re speed endurance events, but their endurance plays a big role in it, so having that foundation that cross gives you of endurance, they just come into the season with a head start, and then they can really just build on that foundation and their foundation is already higher than a lot of their peers and their teammates,” Biello said. “We really treat cross country as the preseason to track almost and the way we look at programming for athletes is, it’s a long gradual build and a peek at the end of outdoor season. So cross country plays a very key role in that.”