The 2012 Stetson cross country season will open and close at the same location.
The Hatters men’s and women’s teams will open competition this Friday in Fort Myers, Fla., at the FCGU Invitational. Florida Gulf Coast will also serve as the host institution for the 2012 Atlantic Sun Conference championship in late October.
“The beauty is that we get to preview the course the conference meet will be held at, unlike other years,” head coach Joe Matuszczak said. “We will also get the chance to check out some of the competition in the conference, as they will be at the meet.”
The Hatter men are led by junior runner Andrew Epifanio, who enters the season after finishing the 2011 conference championship with a time of 27:33.86.
Epifanio competed in the Jacksonville Half Marathon in December, finishing with a time of 1:14:03. Not only was that is the fastest time in his age category, but it was the fastest half marathon run by a 19-year old in the state of Florida in 2011, according to Florida Running and Triathlon magazine.
“Andrew is a good example of a great student-athlete,” Matuszczak said. “He worked hard over the summer, and should be coming into this season in better shape. His personal record is at 27:30, and he could be in for a strong year with a sub-27.”
The team also features two seniors, Kyle Burton and Brian Dughi. Burton’s best race last year was the FLRunners.com Invitational, where he finished with a time of 17:27.79.
The team has two other juniors -- Deryck Greene and Matthew Ady -- and two sophomores -- Angelo Parkinson and Jeremy Butler. Butler had a promising freshmen year, competing in all seven events for the Hatters. His best race was at the FLRunners.com Invitational, where he posted a time of 17:52.94.
Matuszczak brought in five new runners to compete for the Hatters this year. That group includes Andrew Townes, Ryan Hodgins, James Welch III, Austin Finnk and Cody Malloy.
“They have all been great additions to the team,” Matuszczak said. “Three of them will be immediate impact players. Through hard work, the others will work their way up to the ‘varsity’ squad. Their big thing is transitioning from 5k to 8k. Once they get it, it will be a matter of time before they make the leap.”
Senior Alyssa Thompson and junior Sabrina Guzsvany, who are co-captains, will lead the women’s team. Thompson finished the 2011 A-Sun Conference race with a time of 21:53.60, while Guzsvany finished the race with a time of 20:11.50.
“We have great leadership from these two girls,” Matuszczak said. “They are taking the reigns of the team and helping to implement a new way of Stetson cross country. It is almost like starting from scratch and building a program that competes better than before. We want to start a new legacy.”
Constance Compton, who did not run as a freshman last season, will join Christine Iseley, as the two sophomores on the team. Olena Vlasyuk is the other junior on the squad, along with Guzsvany.
Along with Compton, Matuszczak brought in four new runners, all of who will be freshmen this year. They include Adrienne DeVita, Mary Wenzell, Trixi Menge and Jessica Cosgrove.
“To begin the year, two of the four will be my top runners,” Matuszczak said. “All of our freshmen have huge potential. My goal is to have five women running under 20 minutes by the conference meet. If we do that, our team has improved by leaps and bounds.”
The Hatters have seven races on their schedule, including the race this Friday in Fort Myers. Three of the events will be in September, with the rest, including the final race at the Atlantic Sun Championship, in October.
The three events in September will be the University of Florida Mountain Dew Invitational on Sept. 15, the Asics Embry-Riddle Classic on Sept. 22, and the FLrunners.com Invitational on Sept. 28.
The two non-conference events in October will be the Walt Disney World Cross Country Classic on Oct. 5 and the UCF Black & Gold Invitational on Oct. 12. The season culminates with the Atlantic Sun Conference Championships on October 27.
“After this week, we have a another week of hard work before we get back into racing,” Matuszczak said. “We will be competing in bigger races, as all of our meets will have more than 20 teams. We may not be winning those, but that is not what it is about. It is about getting experience, especially with such a young team.”