11/16/12 — Trojans carry different mindset to NCAA Division II men's cross country championships

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Trojans carry different mindset to NCAA Division II men's cross country championships

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 16, 2012 1:48 PM

Forget the "happy to be here" mentality. The objective is different this time for the Mount Olive College men's cross country team.

Simply qualifying for the NCAA Division II national championship meet isn't enough any more. The Trojans expect to improve upon last year's performance and return home with a couple of All-Americans in tow.

"We went up there, got done what we wanted to get done which was the goal we shot for all year long," senior Ronnie Sturgill said. "We got to experience what kind of runners are out there, what kind of competition is out there and it gives us the goal to get better.

"Last year we ran on fumes because we peaked early. This year, we're peaking for nationals so we expect bigger things."

The Trojans don't anticipate running in the front pack during the 2012 NCAA Division II championship meet Saturday morning in Joplin, Mo. They're focused on setting personal-best times and finishing among the top 20 in the 32-team field.

The team has shown the ability to accomplish those goals all season.

MOC won its season-opening dual meet and placed among the top eight teams in events contested at Winthrop University and Charlotte. They emerged the Conference Carolinas champions for the first time in program history and followed that up with a runner-up finish in the Southeast Regional.

Freshman Dylan Lafond established new school records in the 8k and 10k (NCAA distance) this season. Fellow freshman Aki Kitagawa matched the program's second-best time in 8k and 10k races, while freshman Stephen Greco posted the school's eighth-best time in 10k events.

"I was learning basically the first couple of times I ran the 8k to get the gist of the mileage, where to hold back, where to move," Lafond said. "It's not just a few guys who are good (here), but the whole team is superb and they know how to run.

"When you pick someone you want to run with, it just pushes you that much more in races."

The Trojans scaled down their preparation for the nationals.

Instead of running the customary 70 miles, they trimmed it to 45 and ran slower paces. Lafond said that everyone on the team suffers from "deep tissue fatigue" and that for every mile ran in a race, the runner needs at least one day of recuperation.

Sturgill has spoken with the freshmen numerous times about the team's trip to Spokane, Wash., last season. Teams ran in sub-20 temps on a snow-packed course.

"My biggest experience in running that I've ever had, definitely the best experience for the team" Sturgill said. "It's a big race ... the best experience you're ever going to get all year out of cross country. The other meets are just practice.

"(Dylan) has talent and wants to be an All-American and so do I. We're going to do it together."

And set the bar higher, again.