Cross country teams strive to repeat, improve

Brad Tansey

Coming off one of the best years in school history, the Kent State men’s cross country team is focused on continuing to be one of the best programs in the conference.

Mark Croghan, Kent State’s men’s cross country coach, said he and the team haven’t set any official goals, but a top priority is to defend the Mid-American Conference title.

“Coming back as the defending champions, we would like to be in the position to defend that title,” Croghan said. “On paper, we took a pretty good hit as far as graduation and losses from last year’s team. From a talent standpoint, the team we have coming back can compete with the top teams in the conference.”

Senior Scott Hilditch said the team isn’t looking at this season as a rebuilding year.

“We are not looking at this year and think rebuilding, we are 100 percent committed to defending our MAC title and hopefully another high finish at Regional,” Hilditch said in an e-mail. “Our team is driven to succeed, and that comes from a lot of good runners wanting to do their best.”

Last season, the men’s team took first place in all five of their regular season meets. Along with winning the first cross country MAC Championship in school history, the Flashes took sixth place in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Meet.

Junior Michael Heller said that with a revamped roster, a good goal would be to finish in the top three in the conference.

“If we get some transfers that coach (Croghan) has mentioned, we could still be right up there to win the conference,” Heller said. “It’s going to be exciting, but I think top three would be an ideal goal.”

The women’s team, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of the men’s team. The Flashes are returning several runners from last season, including senior Alex Lizarribar, who was the second runner in Kent State history to make the NCAA Championship meet. Lizarribar finished 77th, the best in school history.

“We made a step forward with climbing in the ranks a little bit last year as a team,” Croghan said. “I would like to see us break into the top three in the conference.”

Last season, the Flashes finished fifth in the conference championship meet.

Croghan said this year’s team has a lot of veteran runners, and he hopes that will help some of the younger runners improve.

“I think the makeup of the team is similar to what it was last year,” he said. “On the women’s side, we aren’t necessarily relying as much on the incoming athletes as maybe we are on the men’s side.”

Lizarribar said that expectations as a team aren’t extremely large.

“We are setting our goals,” she said. “We would love to get top three as a team. I don’t think other people in the MAC see us as a threat yet.”

Contact sports reporter Brad Tansey at [email protected].


Key returner: Scott Hilditch. Hilditch finished in the top five in five out of six races last season, including a first place finish at the Falcon Invite.

Key Departure: Aiman Scullion. Scullion finished in the top 12 in all six races last season, including first place finishes at the MAC Championships and the Tommy Evans Invitational.

Key breakout: Michael Heller. Last season, Michael Heller finished in the top 10 in four races, including a season best seventh place finish at the Tommy Evans Invitational and Ohio Invitational.

2009 MAC finish: First place

2010 Prospects: The men’s cross country team graduated one of the MAC’s best runners in Aiman Scullion. Senior Scott Hilditch and junior Michael Heller are poised for breakout seasons as the Flashes are in search of the team’s second MAC Championship in as many seasons.


Key Returner: Alex Lizarribar. Lizarribar turned in one of the best seasons in Kent State history after her 77th place finish at the NCAA Championship meet.

Key Departure: Kelly Gephart. Gephart took fifth place last season at the Tommy Evans Invitational and sixth place at the Ohio Invitational.

Key rookie/breakout: Paige Foster. Foster, an incoming freshman from Minnesota, helped lead the Prior Lake Lakers to the team’s best finish in the team standings at the Class AA State Cross Country Meet. Foster finished 26th at the meet.

2009 MAC Finish: Fifth place

2010 Prospects: The women’s cross country team is returning eight runners from last season. Coach Croghan said he expects this year’s team to continue to improve in the ranks of the MAC.