SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University cross country teams open the 2013 campaign at home this Saturday with the Sea Gull Opener and return four of their five all-conference performers from last season.
The 2012 season was highlighted by Salisbury's first all-region selection in two seasons and five runners at the NCAA Mideast Regional. With the graduation of just three seniors and a solid core of returners on both sides, the Sea Gulls will be looking to remain one of the powers in the Capital Athletic Conference.
Head coach Jim Jones enters his 15th season at the helm of the Sea Gull programs. Women's team will be searching for their fifth CAC title in six years and the men will be looking for their 10th CAC crown. Both squads collected third-place finishes at the CAC Championships last fall.
The women will be led by junior Hailey Spinapont, who placed second at the 2012 CAC Championships. Spinapont put together a standout season in 2012 as she was named CAC Athlete of the Week four times. The Salisbury native placed 40th at the 2012 Mideast Regional and is a two-time All-CAC First Team selection.
Due to a minor injury, Spinapont will be held out of competition until late September. However, Jones expects to see another stellar season from Spinapont.
"Hailey is coming off a tremendous track season that perfectly dovetailed with her success last fall," said Jones. "She will definitely compete for the conference title once again this fall. Additionally, Hailey is talented enough to finish in the top 35 at the regional championships and earn all-region honors. We expect great things from Hailey this season."
Juniors Olivia Cloud and Kira Polimeni both return after placing 29th and 31st, respectively, at the 2012 CAC Championships. Jones has been impressed with both runners this preseason and looks for them to have breakout seasons.
"Kira has looked very good this preseason and will be one of our top runners," said Jones. "Kira's progress has reminded me of Hailey's last year. Her athleticism will shine this season and she will be a major part of the team's success."
"Olivia finished the track season with a handful of great performances," Jones continued. "She has made adjustments to her training and now knows what it takes to succeed at the collegiate level. She is prepared to take another step forward in her performances."
Senior Michele Stromberg looks to finish her career strong. Stromberg's best 2012 finish was at the CAC Championships (33rd) and she recorded a season-best 6K time of 24:52 at the Don Cathcart Invite.
"Michele brings a quiet leadership to the team and sets a great example for the underclassmen to follow," said Jones. "I know she wants to finish her career with a team title at the CAC Championships. Part of Michele's legacy at Salisbury will be to keep the momentum rolling into next year."
Laura Hartman headlines a large sophomore class and Jones believes she will make large improvements in her second year at Salisbury. Jones also looks for freshman Anna Van Zeijts (Maplewood, N.J./Columbia High School) to be in the mix to score on Saturdays.
The 2012 campaign saw a freshman run to the front of the pack in Kyle Tockman. After transferring from Towson University, Tockman was Salisbury's top finisher throughout the season and placed sixth at the CAC championships with a time of 27:59.82. He then placed 31st at the NCAA Mideast Regional and claimed the ninth All-Region honor in program history. Tockman was also awarded All-Freshmen Mideast Region honors as the third-fastest freshman in the regional field.
"Kyle is in great shape right now and we will see him progress a great deal over the course of the season," said Jones. "Kyle's work ethic, talent and leadership will allow this squad to finish the season strong in November."
The Sea Gulls return a pair of all-conference performers in sophomore Thomas Burke and junior Jeremy Skarda. Both Burke and Skarda earned second team All-CAC honors after finishing 10th and 13th, respectively, at the CAC Championships. Burke and Skarda also represented Salisbury at the NCAA Mideast Regional.
"Both Thomas and Jeremy have prepared themselves to have strong seasons," said Jones. "Thomas looks extremely fit and Jeremy is ready to peak at the end of the season. Both runners gained valuable experience at the regional meet last season and that ultimately will benefit the team as a whole."
Salisbury returns three seniors – Joel Anderson, Nathan Austin and Nick Hanifee – who will be in the mix to score on any given Saturday. The group won a CAC team title as freshmen in 2010 and look to conclude their Sea Gull careers as champions.
"Our seniors are extremely motivated to finish their careers on a high note," said Jones. "They bring tremendous leadership to the team and they want to bookend their time at Salisbury with another conference championship."
Salisbury will host three meets, including the CAC Championships, for the first time since the 2010 season. Running at their home course of Winter Park Place for the conference meet, both Sea Gull squads took home CAC titles in 2010.
Salisbury opens the season in a comfort zone, running on its home course for the Sea Gull Opener this Saturday. The meet kicks off with the women's race at 9:45 a.m., followed by the men.
"Our athletes have always enjoyed running in front of the supportive Salisbury community to begin the season," said Jones. "The home meets will act as stepping stones this season. Our athletes will try to improve their fitness levels and performances each time we compete at Winter Park Place."
Salisbury will compare those times to their second home event, the Don Cathcart Invitational, four weeks later (Sept. 28). The ultimate goal is the CAC championships, which will be hosted by Salisbury University on Nov. 2.
"Hosting the CAC Championships gives us a home field advantage over the other schools in our conference," Jones continued. "During my time at Salisbury, we have hosted four conference championships and the men have never lost. The women have won the past two conference meets in Salisbury. If we keep progressing throughout the season and improve each week, both teams will have a terrific opportunity to take home the CAC title in November."