The WVU Tech men’s cross country team has taken great strides in getting established as a national player. That was reflected last week when the Golden Bears were just outside the Top 25 of the NAIA preseason poll. They led the way among others receiving votes with 117.
“I think we have earned that the last couple of years,” head coach Jeremy Bloom said. “Last year we finished 22nd in the country, so people know what we are doing.”
The upcoming season will be geared toward continuing the climb. That begins Friday with the annual Golden Bear Classic at Beckley-Stratton Middle School.
The course is 4,000 meters, a shorter distance than most college cross country events. That, Bloom said, is by design.
“That gives everybody an opportunity to shake off the rust without impacting the training cycle,” he said. “With the women it’s usually 5,000 and the men it’s 8,000. This is a pretty good initial rustbuster.”
The men have an experienced group coming back, led by senior Dan Nehnevaj. Bloom believes Nehnevaj, junior Michael Ecker-Randolph and sophomore Nathan Morton have a chance to finish as All-Americans. Aidan Hearne, a sophomore, gives the Bears a solid top four.
The Golden Bears were the overwhelming pick to repeat as River States Conference champions in preseason balloting.
“That being said, every team is different,” Bloom said. “I don’t know how good we will be. On the men’s side, we have the potential to finish in the top 20 in the nation. We have some newcomers we need to develop in order for that to happen. If they don’t, then it won’t happen.”
Among those newcomers are three freshmen. Greg Panther, like Nehnevaj, is a Washington native. The other two are from West Virginia — Malachi Woods of Buffalo and Joseph Schmitt of Martinsburg.
“Both are kids who were under the radar in high school and not heavily recruited,” Bloom said. “But they both have developed and really competed for spots.”
Progression has been a little slower for the women’s team, but the Lady Golden Bears were picked fifth out of 12 conference teams in the preseason poll.
Bloom says juniors Kaeley Boyd and Jaelynn Parks, who were teammates at Greenbrier East, and Hannah Pride, a sophomore from East Fairmont, will be counted on this fall.
“(Boyd and Parks) were 24-, 25-minute kids in high school,” Bloom said. “They are buying into the program and have worked so hard. They both could break 20 minutes, so you’re talking about shaving five minutes off their time. Hannah Pride has come in and run a lot of miles. Those three will be really foundational for the women’s program.”
Nicholas County’s Michaela O’Dell and Greenbrier West’s Danielle Roberts are two others Bloom said flew under the radar but have the potential to be among the best by the time their careers end.
The 1969 Tech men’s team that won the school’s first-ever cross country conference championship will be recognized on Friday. Among those on the team were Richard Gainer (Beckley), William Gainer (Beckley), Earl Deskins (Pineville) and head coach Bob Brown (Fayetteville).
The Golden Bear Classic will begin with middle school teams running at 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., followed by high school at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Joining Tech in the college division will be Roanoke, Rio Grande, Bluefield State, Bluefield (Va.) College, Marietta, Fairmont and West Virginia State. The college portion will be run at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
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