BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh men’s cross country team is geared up for a 2012 campaign that hopes to chase the elusive Patriot League Championship. Junior captains Jimmy Miller and Tyler Mueller, along with senior Lyle O’Brien will lead an experienced group that seeks to win the Patriot League Championship for the first time in school history.
As the team prepares to break preseason camp and host the Lehigh Invitational on Friday, head coach Todd Etters describes his team’s approach to its preparation as business-like.
“It’s been a workman-like approach coming from everyone,” said Etters. “They’re taking care of business on a daily basis and that’s how we approach the season. We take it one day at a time and one meet at a time.”
Captains Miller and Mueller will be looked upon to provide leadership to a team that, although is carrying just one senior, has six juniors on the roster.
“I don’t see us as a young team,” said coach Etters. “We only have one senior on the roster but I think we have a lot of experience with our junior class.”
Miller is impressed with the team’s attitude coming out of preseason camp. Coming off a year in which he set his 6K run personal best (18:45.8 at the Lehigh Invitational), Miller is excited about the unity this year’s squad is showing.
“The team has definitely gotten a lot closer,” said Miller. “I think we’re really excited coming out of camp week. We know that the team is a whole step ahead of last year’s team. We’re ready to make a run at a championship.”
Mueller hopes the extensive offseason training will lead to a championship. The junior set a career-best time of 25:54 at last year’s Paul Short Men’s College Gold 8K run and is ready to lead the rest of the Mountain Hawks.
“The energy is really high,” said Mueller. “Everyone’s really excited. We all know what our goals are this year. We’ve been training by ourselves all summer to get ready for camp and get the season started to chase a conference title.”
Along with captains Miller and Mueller, O’Brien will be looked upon for leadership during the upcoming season. O’Brien set his best 8K time during the 2011 Patriot League Championships in which he finished in 17th place with a time of 25:41.2. Coach Etters will also turn towards junior Sam Bernitt to make an impact with the 2012 team.
“I expect Lyle to be one of our top guys,” said Etters. “Sam Bernitt is another top guy who was really high impact for us in track.”
Etters knows that desire is only half the battle when chasing a championship. He realizes what is going to be needed from his team if they are going to compete for the title, but Etters is confident that his team is ready and will continue to work hard during the season.
“Our biggest meet will be the Patriot League Championships,” said Etters. “We’ve set our targets high. We want to win it but with that comes a lot of sacrifice, dedication and hard work throughout this season to get to that point. I think we’re ready for that challenge.”
The team lost a key component from last year’s squad in Evans Kosgei, but Miller and Etters believe that even though Kosgei has departed, the unity of the 2012 team will try to replace him.
“When you lose your top runner that really hurts,” said Miller. “We’ll miss Evans. He was a great leader and a great runner but I think we can get the job done.”
“You can’t replace Evans with one runner but we have about four or five guys that we’re going to have to rely on in a pack situation to compete,” said Etters. “We’re also going to rely on much more depth than we have in the past.”
Depth is one of the key aspects that coach Etters thinks separates his team from the rest of the squads that compete in the Lehigh Invitational, an event that the Mountain Hawks have won the past two years.
“We have a little more depth than some of the teams that come,” said Etters. “We’re going to go out and try to run as a pack and make some moves that get us the win.”
Lehigh has also put a streak together of 13 consecutive dual meet victories over rival Lafayette. The streak provides a challenge and expectation that coach Etters believes his team will deliver as the business-like approach will be the focal point of the Mountain Hawks’ attitude toward this season’s race.
“We never take them lightly,” said Etters. “We take a lot of pride in showing up and taking care of business in that meet. You always want to beat your rivals and we look forward to racing them each year.”
The Mountain Hawks will open their season on Friday when they host the Lehigh Invitational at 5:30 p.m.