Sept. 10, 2004
In 2003, a season marred by injury and illness, the Maryland women's cross country team's perseverance was tested, as three of its top runners - Meghan Braffet, Justine Kovacs and Katie Purcell - each missed significant time. But the young team overcame those hurdles and ended last season on an upbeat with its seventh place finish at the ACC Championships.
Much of that same group returns in 2004, including Purcell and redshirt freshmen Braffet and Kovacs. The team will be led by first-year Maryland cross country coach, Michael Garrison. Garrison comes to College Park after coaching at the University of Arkansas from 1998 through 2003 and at his alma mater ('95), UC-Davis. He is appreciative of the Terp women, both in their work ethics and in their abilities to get along.
"The team generally gets along and cares for each other. It's a mature group for their ages, and I think it's wonderful when you see a team that cares for one another like this one does. They've really taken to the philosophy that I've brought in and have started to take the steps needed to rise into the upper echelon of the ACC."
Individually, the team will look to Meghan Braffet to help anchor the team. Braffet is healthy to start the 2004 campaign and is looking to build upon her successes last season. After finishing among the top 25 in two events to start 2003, Braffet had to sit out the rest of the season with mononucleosis. Coach Garrison is looking for her to rebound and help lead the young squad in '04.
"Meghan is very talented and will be a leader on this team for most of her career. She's got that tough, mid-Western mentality that she's going to go out and get you. She's a frontrunner, and every good team needs frontrunners."
The 2004 squad features just one senior, Bridget Baker, but also returns a number of juniors that contributed to the team's cause a year ago. Leading that group is Katie Purcell, who missed time last season with mononucleosis, but is back healthy to start the season. The junior, partnered with Cori Koch, finished in eighth place at the Charlotte Relays to start the year, but missed the next four races before returning for the ACC Championships.
"Katie is looking to prove to some people that she belongs at the front of the pack," Coach Garrison said. She and Meghan [Braffet] are the 1-2 punch for us right now, and I'm very proud of her. She's very committed and interested in learning how to run fast. It's not just a part-time thing for her."
Koch, Purcell's partner in Charlotte, also returns for 2004, after competing in seven of the team's eight races last year. Her best finish came on October 11th when she finished in 14th place with a 19:13.6 at the Maryland Invitational. She was among the top five Terp runners in four of her seven events, with her top team finish (second place) coming in the Charlotte Relays.
"Cori's very dedicated and is a student of the sport," Garrison said. She's wonderful to be around and is close to having a massive breakthrough."
The Terps' junior class also includes: Becca Funk, Shari Gorga, Amie Shomette, Danielle Siebert, Ashley Tremblay, Melissa Trusty and Kelly Wallace.
Siebert is the most experienced of that bunch, finishing among the top three Terps in five of her six races last season. She posted a time of 18:33 at the IC4A/ECAC Championships to finish 12th overall and second on the squad and ran her fastest 6k time of the season the week before when she came in at 21:52 at the NCAA Regional. Coach Michael Garrison is looking for Siebert to step up in 2004.
"Danielle is definitely a talent. She's a fantastic middle distance runner and is getting more and more comfortable with the concept of cross country. I think she's really buying into the training that we're doing and the program we've set up for her. We expect some pretty big things out of her, and I am confident she will deliver when it counts."
Becca Funk was also a consistent top-five runner for the Terps last season, finishing among the team's top five in each of her seven races. Her top placing was a second place finish, both for the team and overall, at the Mount St. Mary's Invitational, while she also finished third place at the IC4A/ECAC Championships to close out the year.
Laurel Jefferson will look to build upon her successful freshman campaign, when she finished among the team's top five in five races, with three of those being top three performances. Coach Garrison likes how the sophomore fits into this team, saying, "Laurel's fun to be around, there's no doubt about it. She's had some injury setbacks this summer, but she's definitely a top-five type person on this team. She's energetic, and I think once she learns more about the process of running big time track and field works, she can definitely make her mark with this team."
Ashley Tremblay and Melissa Trusty each ran in two races (the Mount St. Mary's and Maryland Invitationals). Tremblay brought home a 33rd place overall finish at Mount St. Mary's and a 51st place showing at the Maryland Invitational, while Trusty placed 19th at Mount St. Mary's and 55th at the team's home event. Both should make contributions again in 2004.
Coach Garrison said of Tremblay, "Ashley is another middle distance runner who could pop into our top seven and really help us out. She's got really good foot speed and a fantastic attitude." Garrison also called Trusty's summer one of the top stories on the team, saying, "Melissa, I'd have to say, is the story of the summer for this team. She's really committed herself this summer and did all the work necessary to be consistent top-five runner for us."
Justine Kovacs, a high school field hockey player and newcomer to cross country, also figures to make a contribution this season. Coach Garrison admires the sophomores toughness and is confident she will grow in the sport.
"She's tough. She is just tough. You know that when it's nitty-gritty time, she's going to step up. She has a very bright future ahead of her."
The team has two home meets on the schedule this season - both the ACC Pre-Meet (September 25th) and the ACC Championships (October 30th) - and will look to show its home fans just how far the program has come under Head Track Coach Andrew Valmon and new Cross Country Coach Michael Garrison. Coach Garrison looks forward to each step of the way and is aiming at a good showing at those ACC Championships and beyond.
"The key for us this year is to stay healthy, train hard and train smart. Our primary focus is the ACC Championships and the NCAA Regional Championships. We'll look to take positive steps every time we get out on the course, but there's definitely a plan for every day, both in training and in racing."