Cross Country looks to mesh newcomers, vets; Starter’s pistol fires Sept. 5 on VUXC’s season at Franklin event - Athletics

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Cross Country looks to mesh newcomers, vets; Starter’s pistol fires Sept. 5 on VUXC’s season at Franklin event

As with many junior college sports, the Vincennes University Cross Country Team’s 2015 season is full of “unknowns” and “ifs.” But VU Coach Chris Gafner believes the Trailblazers are also brimming with potential for the upcoming campaign.

The Trailblazers will toe the line for the first time in 2015 when VU competes in the Franklin College Sodexo Grizzly Invitational on Sept. 5 at Blue River Memorial Park in Shelbyville.

The Trailblazers are facing 2015 without the program’s two most prolific distance runners in history, NJCAA All-Americans Robert Murphy and TaPring Goatee, who were at times borderline dominant performers in 2013 and ’14. But, with an infusion of freshman talent and seven returners from 2014, the VU men and women figure to be an interesting group as the season wears on, Gafner said.

“So far, this group is meshing well and working hard, and that’s a good sign,” he said. “We’re fairly healthy, which is another good thing. It’s hard to tell how anyone will compete until the competition actually starts.

“We have a little bit of a lack of experience and that can take a toll early,” he added, “but I think, as the season goes on and we gain that experience, I have to feel good about where this team is headed.”

Five first-year runners join men’s veterans Joshua Backes (Evansville, IN/North), Nathan Dugger (Vincennes, IN/Lincoln), Eric Johnson (Jasonville, IN/Shakamak), Ethan Sparks (Spencer, IN/Owen Valley) and Adam Warren (Speedway, IN/Speedway), while three freshmen will combine with sophomores Kelly O’Shea (Valparaiso, IN/Wheeler) and Breanna Gahagan (Noblesville, IN/Noblesville) to make up a small VU women’s contingent.

Gafner hopes the developing band of runners will seize “training” opportunities in the regular season to perform like seasoned competitors at the right time, specifically the Region 12 and NJCAA National Cross Country meets. The veteran coach is seeing strong signs of VU runners possibly being in the thick of things when those post-season dates arrive.

“Adam Warren is looking very strong right now; I think he is going to be set up for a very good second year, and Kelly O’Shea looks very strong on the women’s side,” Gafner said. “Both of them put in a good block of training and put in the miles over the summer and that will be to their benefit. We have a solid group of returners on the men’s side and we have a couple of freshmen who will contribute to our top seven. It’s a cliché but we’ll just try to keep getting better each time out.

Gafner also said Dugger had an excellent summer and Johnson has gotten past some injuries so he looks like a strong contributor as well. Sparks will probably redshirt this season

“On the women’s side, we have five solid runners right now,” he continued. “The issue is that we only have five (female) runners right now. So, we have to stay healthy but the ladies we have are going to be strong competitors.”

Gafner said a couple of the members of the women’s team were late signees and missed out on some training time but he has seen traits in the runners that give him confidence they can “catch up” by the region meet.

“I really don’t think we have anyone on the teams right now who won’t put in the work,” he said. “It’s just a matter of, when you get to that first meet, who will have the mentality that’s needed to compete. We’ll find out.”

The 2015 edition of VU Cross Country will certainly have a different team-wise approach. Over the past two seasons, the Trailblazers looked to Murphy and Goatee to pave the way in each race. This season, it could be anyone’s day to shine brightest. Gafner said he envisions more variety in the front of the pack for VU this season.

There is also new blood on the sidelines with Gafner during training and meets as Les Martin begins his first season with the VU Cross Country coaching staff.

“Les will be a very valued addition to the program because he’s a tremendous resource in so many ways besides helping at practices,” Gafner said. “Along with everything else, he’ll help out with manning study hall hours and just being there with our student-athletes to assist them in different areas of their lives.”

Martin also figures to put his stamp on the program in recruiting.

“I think that will really help us in seasons to come,” the coach said. “He has helped us with track and we have had some incredible student-athletes as a result of his work, especially in the Indianapolis area because of his experience coaching and the coaches he knows so well.”

Martin began his Trailblazer coaching tenure with last spring’s track & field season, working with the middle-distance and distance runners. A student at VU from 1976-78, he was the head track & field coach at Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School in Indianapolis, IN; track & field and cross country coach at Harshman Middle School in Indianapolis; track & field and cross country coach at Arsenal Technical in Indianapolis and track & field and cross country coach at George Washington High School in Indianapolis.

He was also track & field and cross country coach at Crispus Attucks, Northwest, John Marshall and Emmerich Manual high schools in Indianapolis over the years. In addition, Martin was formerly the track & field meet director for the conference championship of Indianapolis Public Schools two years and USATF youth chairperson for Indiana for two years.

Along with his coaching achievements, Martin has competed in seven marathons, including the Boston and New York marathons.

(**VU Cross Country sophomores pictured right to left: Joshua Backes, Nathan Dugger, Breanna Gahagan, Eric Johnson, Kelly O'Shea, Ethan Sparks and Adam Warren)


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