The Gannon University men’s and women’s cross country teams are learning on the fly this season. Both literally and figuratively.
The men’s team has already notched an invitational win, while the women are in a transitional state, according to coach John Carrig.
“Our guys are improving,” Carrig said. “We have a couple freshmen that are getting better with every competition. And we have a good nucleus.”
The men’s team kicked the 2011 season off with its first-ever win at the Fisher Invitational hosted by Westminster College on Sept. 3.
Meanwhile, the women’s team finished seventh among 17 teams at the season-opening Fisher Invitational, before managing a third-place finish in a seven-team field at the Forest Festival Cross Country Meet hosted by Davis & Elkins College Saturday.
“The girls are a little thin this year; we don’t have a lot of depth,” Carrig said. “We’ve got a lot of young runners, and we’ve also had to fight through some injuries.”
In spite of injuries, the teams were able to place well at the Fisher Invitational.
The men’s team, led by junior Andy Hellmann, collected 95 points, narrowly besting Mercyhurst, which finished with 96.
Hellmann completed the 8K race with a time of 28 minutes, 27 seconds—24 seconds behind Franciscan’s Bill Jones, who won the race in 28 minutes, 3 seconds. Senior Mike Holovka finished at 17th place with a time of 29 minutes, 14 seconds.
The women’s team netted 185 points for seventh place, while Clarion set the winning pace with 71 points. Senior Madison Steward led the women’s team with an 11th-place finish of 25 minutes, 7 seconds in the 6K race.
“The season has been great so far,” Steward said. “I want to give the guys a ton of credit for their win in the opener, but the girls have also been running well.”
The Knights followed up their season-opening performance when both the men and women finished third in the team standings of the Forest Festival meet Saturday.
Seton Hill ran away with the women’s title by accumulating a mere 16 points, while West Virginia Wesleyan took home the men’s title with 28 points.
Carrig said the team’s solid performance was a result of enjoyable running conditions.
“The kids love the course,” he said. “They go through streams and long grass. It’s really a strength-building course because it’s all uphill.”
Steward once again led the women’s charge when her 24 minute, 10 second time was good enough to capture eighth place. Hellmann also anchored the men’s team with an eighth-place finish of 30 minutes 15 seconds.
The men’s team added four other runners in the top 20, as redshirt junior Carter Denne notched a 14th-place finish and Holovka placed 16th, while sophomore Adam Walker finished 17th and freshman Eric Boring was the 20th runner to cross the finish line.
The women’s team also chipped in with a trio of top-20 participants, as junior Kathleen Driving Hawk, senior Jenna Szczepanski and junior Christina Estes finished 14th, 15th and 19th, respectively.
The Gannon harriers will try to build on their solid finishes at 10 a.m. Saturday, when they compete at the Penn State Behrend Invitational.
Steward said that the team has the tools to compete.
“There’s a lot of potential,” she said. “There’s a lot of hard-working people on this team, and I know we’re just getting better.”