11/18/11 — Hoffman, Maloney followed their instinct

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Hoffman, Maloney followed their instinct

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 18, 2011 1:48 PM

Paul Hoffman, Kerry "Bear" Maloney and Kevin Ryan faced the same dilemma -- stay or follow coach Matt van Lierop to a warmer climate after their freshman track season at Keystone (Pa.) College.

Each is glad he did.

Now three seniors at Mount Olive College, they'll battle for the 2011 NCAA Division II men's cross country team championship Saturday in Spokane, Wash. The 10k race begins at 3 p.m.

Before they compete against more than 20 teams on the Plantes Ferry Park trek, Trojan sophomore Chelsea Long will run as an individual in the women's 6k championship event. The starting gun is 2 p.m.

Each race can be seen live on ncaa.com.

van Lierop's decision to leave Keystone shocked Hoffman and Maloney.

"He said to check it out, see if you like it," said Hoffman. "I was all for it because it was a D2 school and there's a scholarship to be offered. That was my dream in high school as an athlete because in D3 there are no scholarships."

Maloney agreed.

"I just improved so much my first year as a runner, I just wanted to stick it out," said Maloney, who hails from Scranton, Pa. "I thought it was a great opportunity, too, with the competition and the scholarship."

van Lierop had little time to recruit before his arrival, and the Trojans didn't field a strong team during his first season as head coach. MOC managed to place 10th in the East Regional, putting in perspective the hard work that was necessary to succeed and building the future with talented recruits.

Injuries plagued the Trojans in 2010, but Hoffman and Maloney knew the team had a legitimate shot this fall. They claimed their own MOC Invitational and finished second at the Winthrop (S.C.) University Invitational in mid-September.

Their next two outings were middle-of-the-pack finishes at the Paul Short Invitational, hosted by Lehigh (Pa.) University; and the Queens University Invitational.

"We kind of struggled with the pack (philosophy)," said Hoffman. "In the middle of the season, we got to the point where we were just running with each other and not pushing each other. The key to running with a pack is trying to beat the guy next to you, push the pace and get ahead of your teammate.

"When you get tired, your teammate wants to pass you. It goes back-and-forth like that."

MOC regrouped and emerged runner-up in the season-ending Conference Carolinas Championship and the Southeast Regional. The Trojans are making their first team appearance in the NCAA Championships since 2001 -- and just the second overall in program history.

"We've always talked about the Cy Young where we don't have that top runner, but we have packs of three," said Maloney. "A front pack of three and Paul leading the second group. I had my first finish of the year (at the regional) and set the pace along with Ronnie (Sturgill).

"We knew if we had any chance of making nationals, we had to do it as a team."

Long is the first Trojan woman in eight years to advance to the NCAA Championship meet since Beth Schultz made back-to-back appearances in a 2002 and 2003. A native of Eugene, Ore., Long owns three of the fastest 5k times in school history and completed the Southeast Regional in 21 minutes, 57.8 seconds.

She earned all-Southeast Region honors.

"It's been a really good year for me, no injuries and (I) haven't been sick, which has been in my favor a lot," said Long. "Practices have been hard and sometimes there have been more bad than good, but that's expected. You have to build off that, I guess.

"It's been awesome what I've accomplished because I didn't expect to do as well as I have done."

The runners aren't expected to deal with high altitude in the Great Northwest, but weather forecasts call for temperatures in the mid-20s. The park trail has a few hills, but is relatively flat, which should lead to faster times.

Adams State is the three-time defending men's team champion.

"Our goal is not to get lost in the race, beat as many kids as possible," said Hoffman. "The higher place you get, the lower the score and the better off the team is going to be. We'll see how the scoring ends up."