Jan. 8, 2003
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Buoyed by the constant positive attitude of second-year head coach Trent Sanderson, the 2002 men's cross country season was marked by solid individual finishes and improved team standings. With its combination of strong leaders and new talent, the team was able to exceed expectations and progress with almost every meet.
Following several weeks of hard work and constant training, the Terps were fully prepared to begin their 2002 campaign as they headed to Boone, N.C. for the Covered Bridge Open on Sept. 6. The team took second at the meet, signifying a complete turnaround from their last-place finish the year before. Four Terps finished in the top 10 overall, including Adam Ambrus (2), Mike Prada (3), Matt Adami (8) and Mike Fleg (9). Ambrus, whose time was nearly two minutes faster than in the same race in 2001, came heartbreakingly close to winning the competition as he finished just four seconds behind the individual winner.
On Sept. 14 the team traveled to the Navy Invitational to take on a competitive 15-team field. The Terps placed fourth in the meet, again led by the pair of Ambrus and Prada. Both runners posted season-best times at Navy, with a 25:12.77 and seventh place for Ambrus, and a 25:27.85 to take 11th place for Prada. Adami finished 30 seconds behind Prada to finish in 19th. The team then had two weeks to prepare to face its toughest competition yet.
The Paul Short Invitational, held at Lehigh University on Sept. 28, saw the Terps take on several regional powerhouses. With an eye on the future, Sanderson strategically chose to rest some of the team's top runners, leaving the meet on the capable legs of Fleg. He lead the team to a 17th place finish out of 24 teams, pacing the Terps with a 25:33.14 that earned him 43rd place out of 233 runners. His time was more than one minute faster than his time at the 2001 Paul Short Invitational. Rounding out the top three Terrapins were Florent Groberg and Natty Zola, in 108th and 116th place, respectively.
The Oct. 5 Indiana State Invitational, held in Terra Haute, Ind., marked the return of the team's top runners in facing several regional rivals as well as five nationally ranked teams. The men surpassed expectations with their 11th place finish out of 20 teams, defeating higher-ranked regional teams and putting up a respectable fight against the national powerhouses. Ambrus paced the team for the third time with a 36th place finish, closely followed by Fleg, who came in two seconds behind him in 37th.
The Terps had a week off before hosting the 2002 Maryland Invitational on Oct. 19. The meet served as the final tune-up for the ACC Championships to follow. Taking advantage of the familiar University Golf Course terrain, the team took second place out of seven teams, behind American University. It was Prada who led the team this time, with a 25:45 that was good enough for fourth place overall. Ambrus and Adami came in 8th and 11th place, respectively, both posting times nearly two minutes faster than at the 2001 Maryland Invitational. The men then turned their sights to the ACC Championships, where they looked to prove themselves worthy among familiar conference opponents.
The Nov. 2 ACC Championships in Atlanta, Ga., resulted in a bittersweet finish for the Terps. While they achieved their goal of improving from last place, the absence of two top runners left the team unable to place as well as they had hoped. The team settled for an eighth place finish instead, in the shadows of nationally ranked N.C. State, who won the men's championship for the seventh time in eight years. Several impressive individual finishes highlighted the Terps' race to help them raise their team standing. The fastest finishing Terp was Ambrus, who grabbed 31st overall with a 25:47.4, nearly two minutes faster than in 2001. Prada came in next for Maryland, in 39th place with a 26:12.3, also posting a faster time than the previous year. The third Terp to cross the finish line was Groberg, who ran to a 45th place finish.
After sending only three men to compete in last year's NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional meet, 2002 saw the return of the Terrapins in the men's team competition. The meet, held in Davis, W.V., on Nov. 16, brought a solid finish to the Terps' 2002 campaign. The Terps came in 13th place, despite the absence of two top contributors who were again forced to sit out due to injury and medical reasons. The 13th place finish marked a dramatic improvement from the last time they competed as a team at the meet, when they took 24th. The men, who battled rough weather throughout the race, were led by Prada, who posted his highest finish ever in an NCAA Regional meet. He ran to a 43rd place finish in the 10,000 meter race with a time of 31:57.2 that was one minute faster than in 2001. Coming in next for the Terps was Groberg, in 57th place with a 32:24.8, and Ambrus, who took 64th out of the 179-man field.
The 2002 Maryland men's cross country team was able to begin a new era of strong performance, setting up continued seasons of progress. Team unity and pride helped propel the Terps to new heights this year.
"We all had great chemistry and supported each other," said Sanderson. "I am proud of how they represented the University of Maryland."