SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University men's and women's cross country teams will begin their 2018 season on Saturday morning, taking a depth of talent to Winter Place Park for the Salisbury University Fall Classic – a benefit the programs have not had in recent years.
"I think we've looked good so far. A lot of people are in good shape right now, but we've got a lot of room for improvement. We're off to a good footing," 20th year Head Coach Jim Jones said. "I'm happy with the depth that we have this season. I think that will be key as we have a lot more depth than we've had, especially in the past few years."
With a stable of returning runners, along with some back from injury, a handful of transfers and a talented freshmen class, the Sea Gulls will look to compete for Capital Athletic Conference titles in both men's and women's competition.
The women's team, which finished in the top seven for the Sea Gulls during their second-place run at the CAC championships a year ago, lost just one runner from the 2017 season – and the roster is primed to continue that success moving forward with just one senior on the squad.
Carly Sniffin will be the only senior on the team after a strong junior season in cross county carried over to a solid track season in the spring. She is expected to carry some of the load on the course, as well as in leadership as one of three team captains.
Juniors Ashley Mazer and Christine Sturm have been chosen as team captains as well for the 2018 season with Mazer looking to bring her improvements from the track season into the fall. Last spring, she threatened the school record in the 5,000-meter run, just 10 seconds off that pace.
Sturm battled the elements and injuries during her junior season, only completing two runs, but toes the start line ready to break through as a junior.
"She has a lot of ability. She ran into some heat issues last year and injuries," Jones said. "She wasn't really able to show what she can do, but all indications are she's dealing with the heat and she's healthy and we expect a lot of good things from her."
Sophomores Liana Foianini and Sydney Ruckel and juniors Shea McCloskey and Jillian Swaim will all be pushing to finish in the scoring places for the Sea Gulls this season, and a strong freshmen class with strong high school pedigrees sets the pace for the future.
Jones has seen the hard work pay off in particular for Ruckel and Swaim, who have been the epitome of hard work and commitment to improvement through their time at Salisbury. He expects it to pay off in 2018.
The senior co-captains on the men's side will be the driving force toward success both in competition and their leadership as Conner Masteran and Emmanuel Porquin will take the leadership spots this season.
"Those are two guys that are really in shape and have committed," Jones said. "This is their senior year and we're excited to see how they finish off, hopefully with a championship."
Green is a runner who has made some of the biggest strides in the program over the past two years.
"He's put in a lot of work and it's showing," Jones said. "He's a much different athlete than he was coming from high school and even from last year."
Transfers Mason Kimbell and Carter Williams are expected to help the Salisbury scoring in their first season in maroon and gold. Kimbell is in his second semester on the Eastern Shore, transferring in last spring from St. Bonaventure University and competing during the track season.
The men's roster will see 17 runners toe the line this year, with a balance of returners, and a number of talented freshmen looking to push the program to new heights.
The Sea Gulls will run in four regular season meets prior to competing in the Capital Athletic Conference championships at Buena Vista, Virginia, hosted by Southern Virginia University.
Half of the team's regular season meets will be contested at home, at Winter Place Park, with Salisbury hosting the annual Salisbury University Fall Classic on September 1 and the Don Cathcart Invitational on September 29.
Salisbury's two road meets have been selected to help the teams prepare for the hilly courses they will encounter in Buena Vista and at DeSales University – which will host the NCAA Mideast Regional meet.
The Sea Gulls will run at the Division II/III Challenge, hosted by Kutztown University, on September 15, and will run their final championship tune-up at the Hood College Invitational.
"We're really going to work on hills this year," Jones said. "We changed up our morning workouts to do a lot of strength training so we'll be strong enough physically and we are always working on getting ourselves ready mentally to compete."