Aug. 6, 1996

1996-97 MSU Men's Cross Country Preview

If there is one word to describe the 1996 Michigan State men's cross country team it is stability.

The Spartans boast eight returning letterwinners after losing just one runner to graduation. That loss, however, was Chris Lett, MSU's top finisher last year.

"We feel that even in losing Chris Lett we can make up for it in numbers," said MSU cross country head coach Jim Stintzi. "With the group we have coming back and the guys entering the program, we should be very competitive."

MSU finished third at the Big Ten and NCAA District IV championships last year. It was the team's best district finish, tying its third-place standing in 1991. The district mark qualified the team for the NCAA Championships where MSU finished 19th.

"This year, our depth will be a positive for us, and hopefully we can keep the time down between No.1 and No. 5, while moving that entire group up in each race," said Stintzi, who was the 1995 District IV Coach of the Year. "Our strength last season was keeping the gap close between our first and fifth runners. We really ran in a pack well. We work to be fit early in the season and build on it."

The building process will fall on the shoulders of returning letterwinners Pat Hoard, Ryan Kennedy, Dean Rugh and Chris Wehrman.

Hoard, a senior from Plymouth, Minn., was consistent last year as one of the Spartans' top five runners. He finished sixth at the district meet behind Lett and was 17th at the conference meet behind Wehrman.

"Pat is very good when he is on," Stintzi said, "and we need him to be "on" consistently. He's a strong competitor who can run with the best in the Big Ten."

Kennedy is a senior from Rochester Hills and was MSU's No. 3 man a year ago. He ran 21st at Big Tens and was 22nd at districts.

"Ryan Kennedy should be a leader for us this year," Stintzi added. "We really need Pat and Ryan to step up now. Ryan is primarily a miler in track, but he is a great leader. He is focused on team goals and running in a pack."

Rugh, a senior from White Lake, was another consistent top five runner last year, finishing as MSU's No. 3 man at the NCAA Championships (125th) and at the Michigan Intercollegiates (20th). He was fourth Spartan to finish at the Big Ten meet (32nd).

Wehrman had an excellent conference meet, placing 16th and was MSU's fifth runner at the Minnesota Invitational and Michigan Intercollegiates. The sophomore Pinckney native ran in six of the seven events, missing just the first one.

Juniors Brant Lutz and Jim Marcero also should figure in the mix, giving the Spartans added experience. Marcero was MSU's No.1 man at Notre Dame (20th) and No. 2 at nationals (117th).

"The No.1 key is how well the team prepared during the summer and the second thing is to stay healthy," Stintzi said. "We're more mature than in recent years with a good number of upperclassmen who have raced in Big Ten, district or national competition . Improvement should be a natural progression."

Added to this year's roster are sophomore transfers Steve Schell, Jake Nay, Kyle Baker and freshman Joe Leo. Schell and Nay transferred from the United States Air Force Academy and Baker comes from Ball State.

Schell and Nay both competed in the outdoor track season last year. Schell was a prep cross country All-American who finished eighth at the Footlocker National Meet as a high school senior.

Leo comes from Detroit Catholic Central High and is regarded as the top cross country recruit in the state after winning the state championship last year. He also earned All-America honors in 1995 with his fifth-place finish at nationals.

With the amount of talent this year, Stintzi said, "We would like to qualify for nationals and improve from third in the Big Ten and districts, and from 19th at nationals."

Wisconsin is the defending Big Ten Champion but lost its top two runners. Another top conference contender will be Michigan, which finished second last year.

"Wisconsin will be the team to be beat, but they and Michigan will be vulnerable," Stintzi said. "Our goal is to win the Big Ten Championship. It is a real possibility and we have to improve substantially over last year."