SEASON PREVIEW: New Coaches And New Faces

Justice Allen is ready to make a move after his promising freshman campaign. (photo by Scott Eyre)
Justice Allen is ready to make a move after his promising freshman campaign. (photo by Scott Eyre)

EMU's cross country program is ready for a rebirth with Head Coach Bob Hepler and Associate Coach Erick Camodeca taking over the reins this summer. While their recruiting efforts will be more realized a year from now, the dynamic duo are already establishing the foundations of their promising program.

ODAC Finish in 2017: Men – 10th (255 points); Women – 3rd (85 points)
Coach: Bob Hepler (1st season) – Hepler's teams won 16 American Southwest Conference Championships during his 14 seasons at the University of Texas at Tyler.
Associate Coach: Erick Camodeca (1st season) – Camodeca's track teams won two Middle Atlantic Conference Championships during his five season at Stevenson University.

Season opener in 2018:
- at Bridgewater XC Challenge at Bridgewater College on Friday, Aug. 31 (5:00pm – women, 5:30pm – men).
Other season highlights:
- at JMU Invitational in New Market, Va., on Saturday, Sept. 8
- at Gettysburg Invitational in Gettysburg, Pa., on Saturday, Oct. 13
- at ODAC Championships in Winchester, Va., (hosted by Shenandoah University) on Saturday, Oct. 27


SID: The women's team had a great season last fall. How will that play into this year?

BH: The EMU women exceeded expectations in 2017.  A ninth place finish at the South/Southeast Regional meet was truly amazing. While the graduation of Michaela Mast and losing #2 runner Megan Good to cross cultural this semester will hurt, this year's team seem like a close-knit group of peaceful warriors who take out all of their aggression on the world whenever they run.

Senior Laurie Serrell (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) as well as Elizabeth Nisly (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton), Emma Hoover (New Carlisle, Ohio/Tecumseh), Ciara Gilman (Rice, Va./Cumberland) and Abigail Shelly (Collinsville, Miss./West Lauderdale) have worked hard this summer so that they can lead this year's team. Newcomers Kellie Serrell (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) and Allison Shelly (Collinsville, Miss./West Lauderdale) plan to shock the world at the ODAC meet on October  27. The combination of closeness and strong work ethic will lead to a great season.

SID: The men's roster has doubled in size from last year. What are you expecting out of them in 2018?

BH: Life's circumstances presented a great obstacle to crossing the finish line for the EMU men in 2017.  Despite injuries, harassment from dogs and many other issues, the men stuck together and improve dramatically by the end of the season.  Derrick Chirinos (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg), Justice Allen (Waynesboro, Va./Waynesboro) and Collin Longenecker (Harrisonburg, Va./Turner Ashby) were key to last year's team and big things will be expected from them in 2018.

Senior Ivan Harris (Spotsylvania, Va./Spotsylvania) is back on the team, and big things are also expected from this year's recruiting class. Isaac Alderfer (Broadway, Va./Broadway), Jack Rice (Palmyra, Va./Fluvanna County), Isaac Andreas (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton), Charles Thornton (Hamilton, Va./Loudoun Valley), Andrew Nord (Albany, Ore./South Albany), Alijah Johnson (Upper Marlboro, Md./Frederick Douglass) and Jake Myers (Archbold, Ohio/Pettisville) all intend to compete for a top five spot on the team.  At least three of these young stallions hope to compete for the #1 spot on the team.

The key to the season will be creating an environment of dedication to sport. We need our returners to step up and lead the freshmen.  Making the jump from racing 5K (3.1 miles) in high school to 8K (4.98 miles) in college is always difficult. This talented group of men will either rise to the occasion like Lord of the Ring's Frodo or see a season of Gollum-like desperation based on the leadership of the brotherhood of juniors and seniors.

SID: Overall impressions of what 2018 will be for your program?

BH: Running is both a spiritual euphoric high and a painful near death Mordor experience.  Developing a team culture which embraces the dedication needed to succeed in such a sport will be the EMU XC's journey.