Cross Country Season Outlook
Pepperdine begins the 2014 season at the Mark Covert Classic.
MALIBU, Calif. - The Pepperdine cross country teams will begin the 2014 season this Saturday (Aug. 30) when the Waves compete at the Mark Covert Classic.
Hosted by Cal State Fullerton and held at Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea, Calif., the men's 8K will be held at 8:30 a.m., with the women's 5K to run at 9:15 a.m.
Pepperdine Coach Robert Radnoti, now in his ninth season in charge, has high hopes for his two teams. He's particularly looking forward to seeing the progress of his men's squad, which welcomes what he called the program's best-ever recruiting class.
"Our men's team is doing extremely well," Radnoti said. "We're so excited about these five guys. It's been amazing to see the team's transformation as we integrate these freshmen into the team. Our returners knew they were coming, and that pushed them to work hard over the summer. We're further along at this point than we've ever been."
So far in early-season workouts, the returning Waves have been paced by sophomores Gordie Thomas (Fallbrook, Calif./Great Oak HS) and Ben Fox (Colorado Springs, Colo./Cheyenne Mountain HS). Both led the Waves twice as freshmen at various races.
"Gordie put in a quality summer of training, and came back really strong and powerful," Radnoti said. "Ben, who is from Colorado, got a lot of high-altitude training this summer. They both have been running really strong, and that's pushed everyone else to step it up a notch."
The five freshmen are Kyle Cajero (Tucson, Ariz./Pusch Ridge Christian Academy), Dan Chiriaev (Campbell, Calif./Prospect HS), Rudy Gonzalez (Whittier, Calif./California HS), Kevin Maeda (Highland, Calif./Citrus Valley HS) and Nicholas Serrao (Laguna Niguel, Calif./Dana Hills HS).
"All five of these freshmen are studs," Radnoti said. "We're very young with all of our freshmen and sophomores, but as they grow up over the next two years I am very excited to see what's going to happen. The step up from a 5K in high school to an 8K in high school is pretty big, and you never know what's going to happen. But our guys have the talent to help us make some nice moves in the WCC. Our long-term goal is to be in the top three, and that's very possible."
The 12-man roster consists of seven sophomores and five freshmen.
The women's side showed some nice improvement last season and finished seventh at the West Coast Conference Championships that were hosted by Pepperdine, but a number of unexpected injuries and losses to key runners have dampened the Waves' preseason.
"We've had some setbacks," Radnoti said. "We don't have a lot of depth right now, so we're trying to develop it. We've got some young runners that will have the opportunity to step up and perform."
Junior Katie Engel (Honeoye Falls, N.Y./Honeoye Falls-Lima HS) was the Waves' top runner in four of her six races last season, including the NCAA West Regional. She has been particularly impressive in the early going, as has senior Lisa Santroch (Shoreline, Wash./Shorewood HS), who switched from soccer to cross country prior to last season.
"Katie's come in really strong and she's crushing every workout," Radnoti said. "She's going to be able to sustain her good performances because she's in such good shape. She's also our best team captain ever. Lisa had a very good first year running for us, and had an amazing run in track. That's carried through the summer and she's come in strong."
Among the healthy women's runners, Radnoti also highlighted sophomores Sydney Gray (Bellingham, Wash./Meridian HS), Lindsay Sheaffer (Portland, Ore./Jesuit HS) and Ellie Smith (Annapolis, Md./Broadneck HS) and freshmen Terra Atwood (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo HS), Chandler Smith (Placentia, Calif./El Dorado HS).
The 17-woman roster includes one senior, five juniors, eight sophomores and three freshmen.
Cross country always boasts one of the highest-academic-achieving programs on campus, and 2013-14 was no different as nine runners earned WCC All-Academic honors and 21 were on the WCC Commissioner's Honor Roll.
The Waves also embrace Pepperdine's motto of "Purpose, Service and Leadership."
"This year, for the first time, we chose to stay in Malibu for our preseason camp," Radnoti said. "We always look to integrate purpose, service and leadership into the program. Aric Crowell, Kelly Smyth and Lisa Santroch are our spiritual leaders and they've done a really nice job of doing devotionals and introducing and helping people on their journey.
"For our service component, we have Waves of Flags and Step Forward Day coming up, but we'll also be looking at doing some things like adopt-a-beach, adopt-a-road, and fundraising for our Project Serve trip in the spring.
"On the leadership side, we look to create opportunities, and this year's we've been using a book called Heart of Leadership by Mark Miller. We've read through that as a team. It has to do with the character of leadership, and the theory that it's easy to teach leadership skills, but it's tough to teach leadership character, so we're focused on that. The hallmark of this team is living Pepperdine's mission, and I feel good about that."
After this weekend's meet, the Waves will also run at the WCC Preview Meet (Sept. 13 in Sunnyvale, Calif.), the Stanford Invitational (Sept. 27 in Palo Alto, Calif.) and the Highlander Invitational (Oct. 18 in Riverside, Calif.) before heading into the postseason with the WCC Championships (Nov. 1 in Sunnyvale, Calif.) and the NCAA West Regional (Nov. 14 in Palo Alto, Calif.).