MORAGA, Calif. — Plenty of returners and a boost of talented, energetic youth makes the 2017 Saint Mary's cross country season one of the most anticipated in recent years for both programs.
And with that hype comes an even flashier “Friday Night Lights” start, when the men and women take part in the Nevada Twilight race under the lights on Friday night. A second sect of the men's team will race Saturday morning at the USF Invitational in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
The Saint Mary's men's team returns nearly every single varsity runner from a year ago, setting it up for plenty of success in 2017.
Gabe Arias-Sheridan will redshirt this fall, as he did in the spring. Arias-Sheridan became the first-ever Saint Mary's runner to compete at the NCAA Cross Country Championship last November. But even without him, the Gaels could be better than ever.
“Having (Arias-Sheridan) not on the starting line at outside glance may look as, ‘Wow, we're not going to be as good this year,' but I think we're going to have the best team we ever had,” said Saint Mary's head coach Marty Kinsey.
Noah McDermott heads into his senior season after breaking the program record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase last spring. Joshua Spooner joins him in his final cross country season after being a consistent top-three scorer in recent years. Raymond Boffman, Edward Chance and Mason Labadie have all ascended in their first two years and enter promising junior campaigns.
Meanwhile, the young talents of Nolan Dozier, Patrick Cummings, Moses Bojorquez, Johnny Jiminez and Daniel Ratto return after strong rookie campaigns last year. All of that experience will pair with champion newcomers Jake Echsner (San Ramon, Calif.), Brady Lance (Portland, Ore.), Alex Riggsby and Cole Snyder (Zephyr Cove, Nev.) to make a formidable force on the cross country course.
“They all worked really hard this summer and mindset coming in this year has been very positive,” said Kinsey. “I think it all finally clicked this summer. They put in such hard work at altitude and kept in touch with one another, that the group itself is going to be close. By the end of the year, any one of those guys could be our top guy. I think this year we have a more complete team.”
“I think with the women, the unique thing we have is that half our team are freshmen,” said Saint Mary's head coach Marty Kinsey. “There's a lot of youth on the team, but we have some good leadership up front with Neylene (Leon) and Abby (Bolt).”
Bolt and Leon head a women's program that has no seniors and just four juniors. Bolt was the Gaels' leading runner all fall a year ago and grabbed a top-25 finish at the 2016 West Coast Conference Championship. Leon has consistently been among the Gaels' scorers during her first two years, and has progressed with strong season after strong season both in cross country and track.
“All the freshmen came in with a very good mindset of wanting to work hard to make this team better, so if we can employ that proper structure where leadership is bringing them up, and also the freshmen are challenging them, that's our goal this year,” said Kinsey.
The freshmen class includes Grace De Leon (Fernley, Nev.), Danielle Destefano (Placerville, Calif.), Abby Mangilog (Sunnyvale, Calif.), Emma McCarthy (Danville, Calif.), Abigayle Mitchell (Hughson, Calif.) and Courtney Robinson (Wilton, Calif.). The group brings a ton of championship meet experience and plenty of accolades with them. Almost all of them competed at their respective state championship meets and earned multiple all-league and all-state awards.
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