SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Coming off the most successful season in Division I program history, the Bryant University men's and women's cross country teams enter the 2014 season looking to take the next stride; a Northeast Conference team title.
With nine of the ten runners that scored at last year's championships back, the Bulldogs have that goal in sight. So much so that other coaches around the NEC have taken notice, slotting the women second and the men third, the highest preseason ranking in both teams history.
After falling nine points shy of a team championship last fall, the Bulldog women return a veteran squad that is poised to take the next step. Picked to finish second in the preseason, the Bulldogs return four of the five scorers from last year's championships.
Although they lose two-time NEC individual champion Eimear Black, the Black and Gold will welcome back fifth-year senior Martha Reynolds (London, England) to lead the way. Reynolds returns for her final year in Smithfield after earning All-NEC honors for the second-straight season. She finished fourth in last year's championships and went on to finish 141st at the NCAA Northeast Regional.
Also back from Bryant's top five a year ago are junior Annmarie Tuxbury (New Hartford, Conn.), sophomore Emily McNeil (Shelton, Conn.) and senior Kara Walsh (Waltham, Mass.). After earning NEC Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman, Tuxbury finished ninth for a second-straight season last fall. She then ran to a 119th-place finish at the NCAA Northeast Regional. McNeil is the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year after finishing 17th at the NEC Championships last year. Walsh excelled last year at the NECs, finishing 22nd to help the Bulldogs.
Bryant will also look for contributions from senior Brooke Tomasetti (Waterford, Conn.), juniors Staci Rezendes (Ludlow, Mass.), Brittany Sarza (Uxbridge, Mass.) and Erin Svensen (Medway, Mass.) and freshmen Hannah Kirby (Wilmington, Mass.), Sarah Lapham (Greenwich, N.Y.), Marina Tomei (Woodbridge, Conn.) and Elizabeth Willmonton (Rowley, Mass.).
Bryant enjoyed a historic 2013 season and will try and repeat those successes this fall. Those efforts will be bolstered by the return of all five scorers from last year's NEC championships.
Leading the way will be the senior duo of Francis Foley (Acton, Mass.) and Blake Fenwick (Thomaston, Conn.). Foley finished 16th at the NECs, while Fenwick ran to a 23rd-place finish. Also back from the top five are juniors Thomas Mullally (Mastic Beach, N.Y.) and Russell Stevens (Colchester, Conn.) and sophomore Richard Landry (Holyoke, Mass.). Mullally finished 21st, Landry finished 27th and Stevens was 29th at last year's championships.
The Bulldogs will feature a very deep team that includes sophomores Arturo Cruz (Westfield, Mass.), Alexander Evans (Bow, N.H.) and Ryan Gannon (Litchfield, Conn.) and freshmen Robert McCabe (Marlborough, Mass.), Justin Patterson (Marshfield, Mass.) and Ryan Poholek (North Attleboro, Mass.).
Bryant opens its 2014 season this Saturday with the 14th annual Shawn M. Nassaney Memorial Race. The women run at 10:30, while the men will set off at 11:15.