Cross Country: the best athletes you've never heard of

By The Beacon | September 12, 2012 9:00pm

Cross Country finishes with three top-ten finishers at the Pier Park Invitational. Currently ranked 7th in the nation, the team looks to knock off University of Oregon as top dog in the state

UP women’s cross country begins the race at the Pier Park Invitational on Sept. 1. The Pilots faced off against fellow in-state rivals like Oregon State and University of Oregon with three UP runners finishing in the top 10. (Photo courtesy of Kim Spir)

By PJ Marcello, Staff Writer

There are many elite athletes attending and competing here at the University of Portland, yet many students don't realize that some of the best are not in a soccer, volleyball, basketball or baseball jersey. The cross country team is currently one of the best in the nation and few appreciate or recognize the high-level success that the team has produced over the last decade.

"No program can be successful without elite athletes," men's cross country head coach Rob Conner said. "We are lucky to attract runners with talent but who also put in the work to compete at a high level."

The cross country team kicked off the 2012 season Sept. 1, hosting its annual Pier Park Invitational.

Both the men's and women's team enjoyed a successful meet led by senior Aiden Irish, who finished fourth in the men's 6k race and sophomore Tansey Lystad who finished sixth for the women's team in the 5k race.

The men's team also celebrated top ten finishes from senior Cody Wells finishing ninth and freshman Stephen Kersh placing tenth.

"It feels great to be part of such a strong program," Kersh said. "It is a testament to how hard we work and coach consistency. We are built around hard work more than raw talent; we are fueled by something inside."

Men's cross country has quietly and arguably surpassed women's soccer as the most successful sport at UP over the past couple of years. They are ranked seventh in the country this season and are threatening to pass perennial in-state powerhouse University of Oregon as the top cross country school in the state.

The athletes and coaches both attribute the strong program to their hard work, team unity and strong coaching.

"We got to this point with hard work," redshirt freshman Scott Fauble said. "Credit goes to coach Conner; he does a good job at managing us, recruiting and creating an environment compatible with success."

Junior David Perry has seen the team progress over his years into a consistent top-ten national program. He and the rest of the team believe they have what it takes to keep performing at an elite level.

"The program over the past years has evolved into a tight knit competitive team," Perry said. "We know how we stack up and we expect the same this year. We are motivated by trying to catch the schools in front of us and staying ahead of the teams nipping at our heels."

Although the team still appears as strong as ever, coach Conner still sees the opportunity to create an even stronger future.

"We have a lot of good young guys and we are really excited about our potential," Conner said. "We could be led by three sophomores this year which is exciting for the future. Our guys are highly motivated and we look to have similar success or look even better over the next two years."

The Pilot's will compete next at the WCC Preview Saturday, at 10:45 a.m. at Fernhill Park in Portland, Ore.

"We are lucky to have these home meets," Kersh said. "It is a rarity to have more than one in a season. We don't get much of an opportunity to be watched, so it would be awesome if we could get some people to come and see us."

(Photo courtesy of Kim Spir)