HARROGATE, Tenn. — With a roster consisting of seven talented underclassmen and one proven veteran, the Lincoln Memorial University men’s cross country team has tempered its expectations a bit for the 2015 season while resolving to build toward bigger and better things in the years to come.
The Railsplitters return just three runners from last season’s squad, which finished sixth in the South Atlantic Conference Championship and 12th in the NCAA Southeast Regional meet. Two of those returners are sophomores Jevon Joseph (Port-O-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago) and Jacob King (Douglasville, Georgia), while the other is standout senior Ryan Mecca (Niagara Falls, Ontario).
Mecca has carded nine top-10s in his three seasons with the Railsplitters, including a seventh-place finish in the 2013 SAC Championship, which earned the Canadian racer All-SAC first team laurels. But with the Railsplitters’ young and potential-filled roster, Coach Jeremy Donahue has opted to redshirt Mecca to provide his young guys with a much-needed season to get acclimated to collegiate running and give his team the best chance to make a championship push in seasons to come.
“Looking at the makeup of our team and looking at what it could possibly be next season as these guys develop, it just seemed like a good idea that’s potentially worth the gamble,” Donahue said. “We wanted to give the freshmen and sophomores a chance to develop this year and really make a push in the conference and region next year. It will also give Ryan another year to train and make a run at a great senior season.”
With Mecca redshirting, Joseph and King will represent the team’s veteran presence. Joseph took 69th place in last season’s SAC Championship meet, while King was 21st in his first two appearances in the Blue and Gray. King added a 45th-place finish at the SAC Championship.
Joseph and King will be surrounded by five immensely talented freshmen, who, as Donahue noted, look ready to pick up the slack in Mecca’s absence and help cultivate a championship culture.
“I’m impressed with how our freshmen have come in,” Donahue said. “They look like they really put in the work over the summer. The initial impression as far as how they’re going about all aspects of training allows us to think that bigger things are ahead after we get some experience this year. Next year I think we can make a huge jump.”
Four pieces of LMU’s five-man recruiting class arrive from the Lone Star State, as Blaine Benitez (Lubbock, Texas), Jorge Hernandez (Mount Pleasant, Texas), Tristan Moore (Richardson, Texas) and Brandon Vaughn (Dallas, Texas) transition from the plains and prairies of Texas to the mountains of east Tennessee.
“All of our newcomers came in with the intent of making an impression on this program,” Donahue continued. “They have gelled well as a group and encouraged each other. So far, these guys have been as good as any group we’ve ever had this early in the season. It’s probably the best we’ve been as a whole in my time here.”
Timote Colquhoun (Dour, Belgium) rounds out the Railsplitters’ collection of newcomers.
Donahue made it clear that, despite the team’s plan to redshirt Mecca, the outlook and forecast remains the same.
“The expectation is still to place higher in the conference and the region than we did last season. Even without Ryan, I think this group has the potential to get into the top-10 in the region and push into the top-3 of the SAC.”
Still, Donahue noted that it will require a steady and patient approach from the coaching staff and the runners early in the season.
“For myself, I have to be patient and try not to rush the results so we can be ready when we host conference here in late October.”
The Railsplitters open the season on Sept. 5 at the Sewanee Invitational in Sewanee, Tennessee. After a four-race regular season schedule, Lincoln Memorial hosts the South Atlantic Conference Championship meet in Pineville on Oct. 24.