Young Amherst Team Eager to Rebuild

Contact: Justin Long

Amherst is looking forward to its rebuilding year.

The Amherst men’s cross country program began making significant strides in 2007, as the Lord Jeffs established themselves as one of New England’s best teams during a dominant three-year stretch. Amherst came out on top in the 2007 NCAA Regional Championships and finished as the runner-up in 2008 and 2009, automatically qualifying for Nationals on each occasion. There would not be a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships, however, as the Jeffs dropped to 10th at the 2010 regional event.

With the loss of two outstanding senior classes, the Lord Jeffs have now parted ways with all seven members of the squad that participated in the 2009 NCAA Championship. Although this season fits the textbook definition of a “rebuilding year,” head coach Erik Nedeau is excited. “People who haven’t had scoring roles now have that opportunity,” he says. “We have a lot of guys who have learned the ropes, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can really do.”

The Lord Jeffs’ top three scorers were all seniors in each of the team’s final three races of 2010, which is a big reason Amherst is not one of the seven NESCAC schools listed in the USTFCCCA preseason regional rankings. With only two seniors and several new faces, Nedeau will stress the importance of improvement throughout the year. “I think we’ll be much better toward the end of the season than we appear to be on paper. I’m looking forward to people stepping into leading roles and realizing their potential. If guys do what they’re capable of and take full advantage of their opportunities, we could be a nice surprise.”

Much of this year’s success will depend on the leadership Amherst’s seniors bring to the table. Ben Scheetz ’12 is a national champion in track & field but hasn’t factored into the scoring mix during cross country season, but Coach Nedeau believes he could be a big wild card this year. Scheetz could be particularly successful during championship season as the courses become faster and flatter, which suits his running style. “Ben carries an aura because of his track success, which makes him a unique type of leader,” Nedeau says. “I think guys will see his work ethic and want to follow suit.”

Ben Scheetz '12 could be in store for a breakout season.

Nedeau is also quick to point out the work ethic of Alec Jacobson ’12, who put in Amherst’s sixth fastest time at last year’s Little Three Championships. “I know that Alec will get everything out of himself this year, and I think the other guys will take notice,” Nedeau says. “His hard work could result in some very good races.” Rounding out the senior class is Geoff Ainslie ’12, who returns to the team after sitting out the 2010 season. “I’m excited about what our seniors can do,” Nedeau adds. “They each bring their own strengths that will combine to create a great pool of leadership. They are going to be pivotal in helping us make the shift.”

Amherst’s scoring spots are up for grabs, but the three leading candidates seem to be Dillon Buckley ’13, Andrew Erskine ’13 and Patrick Grimes ’13. Each of the three had a promising sophomore season in 2010, but it was Grimes who led his fellow underclassmen in three races, including the Open New England Championships. Despite some promising moments, Grimes was never able to fully recover after getting sick early in the 2010 season. “Patrick is a competitor,” Nedeau says. “He likes pressure, and he knows he’s going to be counted on. He had a good track season, which should carry over into the fall.”

Joining Jacobson and Scheetz as one of this year’s three captains is Buckley, who closed out his sophomore season by finishing with Amherst’s fourth fastest time at the NESCAC Championships and the team’s fifth best time at the NCAA Regionals. “Dillon knows what it takes for the team to be as strong as possible,” Nedeau says. “He has a great presence, and his leadership qualities make him an ideal captain.”

Erskine, meanwhile, ended his 2010 season by leading his classmates at the NCAA Regional Championships, as his time of 27:13.1 was Amherst’s fourth fastest mark of the day. “Andrew has had two solid years with the program,” Nedeau says. “He is coming off a great indoor and outdoor season, and he’s ready to be a number one runner.”

Dillon Buckley '12 will serve as one of this year's captains.

Also standing out in the junior class is Adron Pitmon ’13. As a sophomore he showed promise by posting Amherst’s second best time at Williams College (27:18), placing 33rd in a field of 198 runners. Pitmon also put in the team’s fourth fastest performance at the Open New England Championships, but he would be sidelined for the remainder of the year due to an injury. “Adron has the mentality and talent to be a big runner for us,” Nedeau says. “He’s in good shape, he’s very focused, and he’s ahead of where he’s been the past two years. He’s in a position to do something great for us.”

Rounding out the stacked junior class is Eli Howe ’13, who made a significant amount of progress in his first two years with the program. Nedeau notes that Howe began to see what he is capable of during the track & field season, and that he has the opportunity to become one of the team’s better runners. “Eli works hard, he loves to compete, and he’s very diligent about everything he does. He has a huge upside to him...The members of our junior class are really going to push each other. They all want to be our number one, and that type of mentality could make the team very good.”

Looking to join the upperclassmen in the scoring mix are sophomores Gus Greenstein ’14, Dan Burnett ’14, Kevin Heintz ’14, Alvaro Morales ’14 and Charlie Reighard ’14. “We have a lot of younger guys who I think have the ability to step up and perform well,” Nedeau says. “Our sophomores have the opportunity to establish new roles and surprise some people, and I hope they capitalize.”

Nedeau is looking forward to his seven first-years finding their rhythm and contributing to the team’s success. Joining the Lord Jeffs are Casey Fussell ’15, Greg Turissini ’15, Lucas Lebovitz ’15, Jerome Sklar ’15, Nick Codola ’15, Nick Kearns ’15 and Alex Durkee ’15. “We have a couple of first-years who I think will make a nice adjustment to the 8k course,” Nedeau says. “They’re true distance runners who may wind up doing more than what freshmen usually do for teams.”

The Lord Jeffs will kick off their 2011 season by competing at the UMass Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 17.