Finishing 13th in the nation last year, the Pilots men's cross country team is looking to better than ever. With a nearly full returning team and an incoming class of 17 new recruits, the Pilots can make improvement on last season a reality in 2010.
The team lost one senior from last year, Tommy Betterbed, whose presence will be missed both as a runner and leader for the team. Betterbed finished his season receiving the WCC Mike Gilleran Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year and earning the WCC Postgraduate Scholarship.
While the team may feel Betterbed's absence, Head Coach Rob Conner remains confident in the strong returning team and its incoming recruits.
"Our team has more depth than it ever has before," Conner said. "Something that has been somewhat of an Achilles heel in the past."
The 2010 team will be lead by two-time All-American junior Alfred Kipchumba, who finished 14th nationally last season, as well as sophomores Joash Osoro and Trevor Dunbar, who finished 67th and 76th, respectively.
The power trio of Kipchumba, Osoro and Dunbar is poised to take UP to its 6th consecutive top 20 national finish. The University's five consecutive top-20 finishes can only be matched by five other schools. However, the expectations for 2010 go beyond placing in the top 20.
"Our goal is to finish within the top 10 nationally," Conner said. "Our depth allows us a chance to do that this year."
The cross country team's best finish was 7th place in the 2001 and 2008 seasons.
Junior runner Sean Thomas echoed his coach's praises of team depth and dedication to a top-10 finish.
"The internal competition between our runners will help us push each other even more toward achieving our goal of a top ten finish," Thomas said.
The depth goes well beyond the expected top three runners.
"Behind them we have at least seven more guys that could look to contend nationally this year," Conner said.
This depth can be attributed to the strong recruiting done both on the national and international levels. This year's class is bringing in 17 new faces from nine states ranging from New York to Hawaii. The freshman class has already made a noticeable impact in practice, according to Thomas.
"It's evident that the freshmen have been working hard to be ready for the season," Thomas said. "They all seem to be on pace and hitting their marks."
Recruiting here surpasses national boundaries — the Pilots feature runners from Kenya, Norway and England. Conner credits much of the recruiting success to the UP's reputation.
"Recruits are looking for a place where they can not only run but also get a great education and Portland is really at the top of that list. The school sells itself."
With the leadership coming from an almost completely returning team as well as a strong incoming class, the Pilot men's cross country team is poised to make a long-term impact.
"We have the team to make the next four years our best seasons ever," Thomas said.
The cross country season starts Fri., Sept. 3, in Corvallis for the John Frank Memorial Invitational.