The Pioneers men’s cross country team enters the 2015 season with a great deal of confidence, having won the Midwest Conference a remarkable 27 out of the past 29 seasons. Unsurprisingly, the Pioneers have been selected as the Conference’s pre-season favorite in a vote by Conference coaches.
Head coach Will Freeman does not see the increased level of expectation as added pressure.
“I don’t feel pressure at all,” Freeman wrote in an email to The S&B. “We just focus on doing the right things, and training progressively and functionally. I believe that the performance at the Championship meets will be there if they have done the work.”
Last year the team lost their top runner, Nate Kolacia ’16, to injury yet still went on to win Conference. Lex Mundell ’16 believes that this has prepared this team and helps relieve potential pressure.
“We were the favorites [last year], but we were the underwhelming favorites. But we pulled it off because of the depth of our team and how we worked together,” Mundell said. Coach Freeman is especially excited about the decorated top three runners.
“Our returning group is outstanding! Adam Dalton ’16, Nate Kolacia and Anthony McLean ’17 share seven Conference titles in track, and all are capable of winning the individual Conference title in the sport. Few schools have three runners at the front as good as these three,” Freeman wrote.
“[They are] easily three of the best runners in the Conference, maybe three of the best in the region,” said teammate Greg Margida ’16.
Along with the established upperclassmen, the team is excited about the promise that the first-year runners have shown.
“They’re a very special class because they are at least one of the deepest and the most talented classes since my first year,” Mundell said.
All this success and promise has the Pioneers’ sights set even higher. While Conference success has become routine, Grinnell has found itself still on the outside looking in when it came to Nationals the past few seasons. Last season Grinnell finished 11th in the NCAA Division III Central Region Championships, a tournament in which only the top two teams advance to Nationals. With a healthy Kolacia and Dalton this year’s team seem confident that a Nationals berth is not out of the question.
“I think definitely we have a realistic shot,” Margida said. “I was just talking to Coach Will [Freeman] yesterday and he said this is the year to do it.”
The Pioneers quest for National success begins this Saturday in Pella, Iowa with the Central Invitational. Fans can see the Pioneers in action on Sept. 12, when Grinnell hosts the Les Duke Invitational.