FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Florida Gulf Coast University men's cross country team begins its season in the six-team Saint Leo Invitational Friday night at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, Fla.
The Eagles, who finished fourth in this meet in 2004, will race against Florida Tech, Florida Southern, Tampa, Rollins and Saint Leo in the season opener.
Now entering their fourth season of competition, FGCU will run all six regular season meets plus the NCAA Division II South Regional championship meet in the state of Florida, including three races at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, the site of the NCAA South Region meet.
The Eagles will return to five of their competition sites from a year ago, running in events at Saint Leo in Dade City (Sept. 2), Embry-Riddle (Sept. 24), the flrunners.com pre-regional meet in Dade City (Sept. 30), the Walt Disney World Invitational (Oct. 8), and at the Stetson Hatter Invitational (Oct. 14). The Eagles also return to the Florida Tech Invitational (Sept. 10), which was postponed due to hurricanes a year ago.
The NCAA Division II regional championship, hosted by Florida Southern College, will be held November 5.
Men's Cross Country Outlook
The Eagles head into the season with the highest expectations in the program's history. With an influx of talented newcomers, depth is less of a concern for head coach Chris Highfield, who welcomed 12 runners into pre-season workouts last month, his largest team ever. More importantly, the fourth-year head coach may have the most talented FGCU squad from top to bottom. With only the top five runners earning a team score in a meet, practices have become very competitive.
"We have gotten better every year in terms of talent", said Highfield. "For the first time in our program's history we don't know, surprisingly, who our first five runners are going to be. We really stressed mileage for their summer workouts and we posted our best pre-season time trials in my four seasons."
The Eagles will be without last year's top runner, Edison Vasquez, who opted not to return, but sophomore Mike Harney (North Fort Myers, Fla.) shattered the time trial record by more than a minute and is poised to take the reigns as the team's top runner and challenge the FGCU 8-K record book. A former all-state runner at North Fort Myers High, Harney ran for Cowley Community College in Kansas, which finished third in the National Junior College Athletic Association national championships.
Challenging Harney for the top spot will be junior transfer Scott Poindexter (Tallahassee, Fla.), a two-year track and cross-country runner at the University of West Florida and freshman Grant Berkery (Sarasota, Fla.), who led Sarasota High to a top-10 finish in the state last year in cross country and track.
The Eagles also benefit from the return of three sophomores who were among the top five runners on the team a year ago. Ron Gilles (Naples, Fla.) ran in the second spot all season and posted sub 31-minute times in three of his five 8-K races. Bryan Spiewak (Coral Springs, Fla.) expects to improve on his season-best 31:38 from a year ago, as does Rob Clendening (New Port Richey, Fla.), who ran a season-best 31:19 in 2004.
A pair of junior transfers, Ray Cayo (Lima, Peru) and Ismael Galicia (Naples, Fla.) are in the mix for top five positions. Galicia, who was an All-Collier County runner at Lely High, competed for Warner Southern College the past two seasons. Another junior, Franz Desvallons (Fort Myers, Fla.) begins his first season with the Eagles. True freshman Sean Combs (Naples, Fla.) and Adam Ulrich (Coral Gables, Fla.) provide depth. Highfield hopes the rise in talent and depth leads to the team's first regional appearance.
"We've had good workouts since day one of pre-season and are excited to get started", said Highfield. "We have high expectations and have set high goals for this year's team."