Lions count on youth

After a conference championship, a South Central regional championship, and an eleventh place finish at the NCAA Division-II nationals, it’s no surprise that the men’s cross country team was voted number one in the MIAA pre-season poll.

However, 22-year Head Coach Tom Rutledge isn’t buying into it.

“Preseason means nothing,” he said.

There’s definitely some buzz surrounding this team, and Rutledge seems to know better than anyone why.

“I just have a feeling about these guys,” Rutledge said.  “They’re just working out great.”

This excitement could continue for a few more years,  as the team is made up primarily of freshmen and sophomores after losing four top runners due to graduation last year including a couple of All-Americans.

“I’m not going to downplay a freshman and sophomore group because I expect them to do what I ask them to do, and that’s step up to the plate,” Rutledge said.  “It’s a young group, but we don’t think of it as rebuilding.  We think of it as reloading.”

They’ll get the chance to show their stuff today as the team kicks off its 2010 campaign in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas, but coach Rutledge has bigger plans.

To Rutledge and this team, the whole season is about gearing up for the big races.

“The only meets that mean anything are conference, regionals, and nationals,” he said.  “My goals never change.  Win conference, finish in the top two or three in regionals, and finish in the top ten at nationals.”

With that type of attitude, it seems sure that the Lions are capable of repeating last year’s success – maybe even surpassing it.