Expectations remain high as the 2010 men’s cross country pre-season polls placed Eastern Michigan University as favorites to win the MAC Championship this year. Kent State University, defending MAC Champions, are placed second.
“As always our goal is to strive for athletic excellence in an effort for each individual and the team to reach its potential,” Coach John Goodridge said. “For us that has traditionally meant to challenge for the MAC Championship.”
But the runners and Goodridge could care less about preseason polls.
“The pre-season ranking really isn’t anything I have even mentioned to the team, but I can assure you that after having our four year streak stopped last year the team has been very focused since last year’s championship,” he said. “Our development in track all last year is very indicative of that motivation.”
The Eagles ended their last season on a disappointing note, finishing second in the 2009 MAC Championship. The team’s second-place finish was the first time the Eagles had lost in five years.
“It was a humbling experience,” said senior captain Matt Hammersmith. “We are a team with a rich tradition. We have a tradition of individual champions and team titles, so not taking home one of those awards was upsetting.”
Hammersmith said, “Our goals are normally the same every year. Win the MAC championship and advance out of regionals. Things have not changed.”
The team is looking to rebound this year after losing captain Curtis Vollmar last year. Looking to bring the team back on top are sophomore James Hughes and Hammersmith.
“2010 is a new season and we are a new team this fall,” Goodridge said. “We start the season without graduated Curtis Vollmar, who last year was our number one man in every meet. We only began training together one week ago so we are just beginning to learn who we are”
Prior to the start of the season, Goodridge named Hammersmith captain.
“Being named team captain, for me, is an honor not to be taken lightly,” Hammersmith said. “I am following in the footsteps of many Eastern runners before me who have lead teams to national titles. I have some pretty big shoes to fill, but I lead by example.”
Hughes finished his redshirted freshman season as EMU’s second runner to finish at the MAC Championships at ninth place allowing him to attain second-team All-MAC honors. Hammersmith finished 10th also receiving second-team All-MAC honors. Both runners were named EMU’s Most Improved Players of 2009.
“Likewise, James Hughes with Matt were the likely two most improved cross country runners in the conference last year,” Goodridge said. “Matt improved from 61st to 10th in the MAC Championships and James running as a redshirt freshman, who could not make our top nine the year before, placed ninth in his first MAC Championship.”
Hammersmith’s hard work also translates to the classroom; he recieved Academic All-MAC for his junior year.
“As an individual self improvement is a must,” Hammersmith said. “I try to set forth a standard that raises the bar for my fellow teammates so that we all benefit as a team. This is a process of increasing mileage, intensity in training and mental fortitude. If we are to compete at a national level we must train as one as well.”
Hughes finished first this past weekend at the Detroit Running Fit Invitational where, according to Goodridge, he ran 13 seconds faster than the year before.
The Eagles’ next competition starts at 10 a.m. on Sept. 25 at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.