The Stetson men’s cross country team is a small, but feisty bunch that truly lives up to its description as harriers. They may never knock off a powerhouse like UF or FSU, but are nonetheless a team that pounces on an unsuspecting foe every chance they get. Like the ancient game of hounds and foxes from which cross country has evolved, they chase, scold, nip, and wear down anyone close, including each other.
Take, for example, the first race of 2012 at Florida Gulf Coast University. That day the temperature soared to 103 in Ft. Myers, and hadn’t much improved—especially the humidity--by the 5:00 start. Team captain Andrew Epifanio was hoping to begin the season by running a time approximating his last race of the previous season (27:33), and build upon that to make a run at the Stetson school record (26:47) by season’s end. Going all out on a dog day afternoon, he never made it to the finish. He went down with heat stroke about a half mile from the finish.
With Andrew down and out, it seemed likely that senior co-captain Kyle Burton would take his place up front, but the heat shaved the edge off his race, too. And so it was another senior, Brian Dughi, who finished as the first Hatter in 30:05. (Burton was second in 30:25.)
And so it went, race after race, for the next six races. Although Epifanio regained his footing by Mt. Dew, second place went to a different Hatter in all but two meets: Burton at UF/Mt. Dee (29:12); Cody Malloy at Embry Riddle (30:54)*; Jeremy Butler at the lone 5K, FL Runners XIII (17:27); Andrew Townes at Walt Disney (30:30)*; Cody Malloy at UCF (29:27)*; and Jeremy Butler at A-Sun (28:37)*. (Asterisks denote personal bests.) In all, the twelve man team set 21 individual personal bests in their seven meets. Behind them, every runner fought for every place in every race. More importantly, they won their first invitational team race within recent memory, the College Men’s Race at FLR XIII (September 29th).
What can we expect in 2013? Probably more of the same. This year’s squad consists, currently, of nine returners: three seniors (Matthew Ady, Andrew Epifanio, and Deryck Greene); one junior (Jeremy Butler); and five sophomores (Austyn Finnk, Ryan Hodgins, Cody Malloy, Andrew Townes, and James Welch III). Two freshmen--Kyle Meerdo and Joe Beery—will join the team, for their first season of college cross country.
The team’s first timed challenge came on August 24th at the Stone Island 5K. The Women’s Overall title was claimed by freshman Amanda Spring (19:21), and the Men’s by Andrew Epifanio (16:33). Second in each division were also freshmen: Beery in a lifetime best of 16:49, and Sami Hicks in 20:08.
“They all came into the time trial and ran well,” explained Head Coach Joe Matuszczak. “but with room for improvement. The good thing is it’s looking like it was with Andrew and Kyle (Burton) a few years back. Joe and Andrew will be running together, not only in practice, but also in meets, and I’m hoping we can get five guys in under 29 minutes by the (A-Sun) conferences (November 2nd in Nashville, Tennessee).”
Team captain Epifanio concurs.
“The men’s team is in a building phase,” Epifanio believes, “and we’re working hard to put together a solid top eight. There are a few standouts in the lineup right now. One of our new runners, Joe Beery, put in a solid summer, and definitely has the potential to challenge the number one varsity position. And Kyle Meerdo, another freshman, should help bring our top six closer together and push some of our returning runners in practice and races.”
Meerdo is from nearby Altamonte Springs, and ran for Lake Brantley, where he earned both an MVP and Most Improved award. He comes in with a 17:36 PR in the 5K.
“I found out about Stetson by talking to Coach Joe Matuszczak at local races”—Matuszczak is an avid road runner himself—“and also by talking to former Stetson coach John Boyle about where I should look to run.”
As a result of those informal interactions, Stetson seemed like a clear choice to Meerdo.
“The academic prestige and small class size made me feel comfortable, and at home. It is a great institution. Also, it was close to home and I had the opportunity to run for a Division I cross country team, which I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid.”
Kyle enters with an eye on one of the college’s most popular majors.
“I intend to major in Integrative Health Science at Stetson, and moving on to get my Master’s and Ph. D. in physical therapy.”
Joe Beery is a 2013 graduate of Hillsboro High School, in Hillsboro, Ohio. His high school PRs include 2:06 in the 800, 4:40 in the 1600, 10:06 in the 3200, and 17:43 in cross country (5K).
One sure thing about this newcomer: he won’t waste a moment looking back. His summer was spent building race experience at all three college cross country distances. Along the way, he set PRs at 5K (16:56), 8K (28:10), and 10K (36:46), proving--without a doubt--that he is a ready-for-prime-time college runner.
“I’m sooooo excited about this season,” he wrote me during the summer. “The heat (in Florida) was kind of rough at first, but I’m adjusting pretty well. I’m still feeling a little more fatigued than usual, but it’s progressively getting better.”
I asked Beery, “Why Stetson?”
“I found out about Stetson in two ways, almost simultaneously. The first was my sister’s friends in Orlando, and the second was the mention of Stetson Law in a book called Again to Carthage. As a student avidly interested in pursuing a career in law, the mention of Stetson Law intrigued me. So I checked out the school and fell in love with the small classes and the campus. Also the acceptance rate into Stetson Law intrigued me.”
And, of course, there’s running.
“Having the opportunity to be on a college team comprised of dedicated athletes and hard workers is something I love, and so far the team has definitely lived up to that description,” Beery continued. “They’ve showed me nothing but love and support, and I’m ecstatic to be here side by side with them. With this group and this drive, I see big things in this program’s future, and I can’t describe how pumped I am to be a part of it.”
“All the freshmen—including the girls--are wonderful and hard working,” added Epifanio. “I got a chance to work with them and see their potential at our first-ever running camp a few weeks ago, which Christine Iseley and I coordinated and managed. The camp itself was a huge success, and Christine did a great job handling the location and necessities of feeding and housing the runners. The camp gave us a good look at where many of our athletes were at, and really highlighted our potential for the upcoming season. It should be a fantastic year for all of us.”