KUTZTOWN – There is no shying away from the Kutztown University men’s cross country team’s goals for 2018. KU returns its senior class that redshirted a year ago, has one of its deepest fields of talent in years and is ‘All In’ to put KU cross country back in the national spotlight for the first time in 30 years.
The Golden Bears sat out and redshirted their top senior runners last year in an effort to set-up a potential historic 2018. KU fielded a young group last season led by freshmen and sophomores, who built an extensive season of training and competition at the collegiate level. That experience is blossoming into some of the top talent in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), and combined with some of the top returning talent in the country, Kutztown is in position to compete for some lofty goals this season – qualifying for the NCAA National Championships.
Despite its youth movement, Kutztown still finished eighth at the PSAC Championships and 12th at the NCAA Atlantic Region Championships with many runners competing in postseason events for the first time. 21-year head coach Ray Hoffman knew his team could take some lumps going against seasoned
groups throughout the conference, but was pleased with the effort and progression he saw from his program.
“We certainly went through some growing pains last year – we didn’t know who our top runner was going to be, but we felt we had a handful of guys that could intertwine and compete among our top runners,” Hoffman said. “I thought it was a good situation for some of our younger guys to step into leadership roles early in their careers. We returned none of our top-7 runners from the previous year, so the door was wide open. It was a good time for them to grow.”
1988 was the last time Kutztown’s men’s team qualified for nationals – 30 years. Hoffman is confident in his group this year and has booked a schedule that sets KU up for success down the stretch. In addition to KU’s normal opening meets, including the season-opener at Ramapo on Aug. 31, the home Division II/III Challenge on Sept. 15, and Lehigh’s Paul Short Invitational on Sept. 29, the second-half of Kutztown’s schedule is built around the postseason.
With regionals and nationals hosted in Pittsburgh and by Slippery Rock this year, KU will run in a Pre-National Meet on Oct. 20 – two weeks before PSACs and four weeks before regionals – to help KU prepare on a new course. The top-3 teams at regionals will automatically qualify for nationals, with the fourth team eligible to earn an at-large bid, so the Pre-National Meet should be flooded with some of the country’s top teams.
Kutztown was picked fifth in the PSAC Preseason Poll, the highest in program history.
“Going into my 21st year, I feel this is the strongest men’s team we’ve had in my tenure,” Hoffman said. “We haven’t had a men’s team make nationals in 30 years, but with the way our region looks, I think we stack up well against the top teams. We have some solid experience, quality young men and a combination that can move us up the ladder to put our hat in the ring for a bid for nationals.”
Steve Maine returns as a two-time national qualifier and aims to lead this group to the Promised Land. He redshirted last year and enters his final year as a three-time All-Region and All-PSAC runner. He is already the only three-time All-Region runner in program history and can cement his legacy as the only four-time honoree this season. He finished fourth at regionals two years ago, the best male finish at regionals in school history, and finished eighth at PSACs that year. He will certainly be one of the top returning runners in the region this year.
“We are looking for Steve to lead us up front,” Hoffman said. “He brings senior leadership as a fifth-year senior and is a vocal leader for us both on and off the course. The mental break of competition last fall led to a record-breaking indoor track & field season for him last year. He is focused on his final cross country season and has some very big goals. He wants to go after a conference and regional title and wants to lead our program to nationals.”
Chris Coates enters his redshirt-senior season and has been a PSAC runner in the 3K and 5K indoors and a point-scorer outdoors in the 10K. He provides leadership for this group and was the 2017 Coaches Award winner.
Xavier Gutierrez is coming off a strong outdoor season in track & field and enters his senior year. He finished third at PSACs in both the 3000m Steeplechase and the 5000m and has the work ethic to make a significant jump in the conference field this fall. Hoffman touts Gutierrez’s focus during the summer and feels he has the ability to surprise the conference.
AJ Kilpatrick stepped in as KU’s top runner at PSACs as an All-PSAC Second Team runner last year. He was the Team MVP and is primed to take another great step as a junior. Fellow junior Jason Leonardo built a great base last year and should also compete for a conference and regional spot.
Jose Colon-Cruz redshirted last year and enters his redshirt-junior year. He has been a top-7 runner for KU in the past and will add depth to KU’s top rotation once again. Jared Luckanitz stepped in last year and ran in KU’s top-7. A strong track & field runner for KU as well, Luckanitz adds depth in his redshirt-junior year.
Two of Kutztown’s top freshmen runners last year were Derek Barney and Andrew Sulon. Both took on leadership roles and have the potential to be top-30 runners as KU’s final starting competitors. Juniors Nick DeGennaro and Nate Burkhart add great depth and two years of experience to this year’s group.
Kutztown brings in one of the top freshmen in the conference this year in Evan Adanatzian. A strong two-miler in high school, Adanatzian comes to KU with strong credentials and could make an immediate impact. He adds quality depth and as he adjusts to longer runs of 8K and 10K, Adanatzian could make a splash right off the bat in 2018.
KU has additional returners that could make an impact this year. Mathew Bianco, Derek Domsicz and Teagan Fortna have run middle distance in track & field and have used cross country to continue to train for the winter. Ryan Riley redshirted last year and continues to develop in cross country, and AJ Leo comes to campus as a freshman.
Among some of the top returning programs in 2018, Shippensburg is the defending conference champion who should be strong again. Edinboro, Lock Haven and East Stroudsburg have also remained among the elite men’s programs, who KU sees itself competing with in the postseason.