Photo courtesy of Jeff Golden
After a strong showing at the Pepperdine Invitational on Sept. 1, the Waves men’s cross country team is poised to have an exciting season. Pepperdine placed second out of the three teams competing, and many Waves runners finished near the front of the pack.
Coach Robert Radnoti has been building this team for the past four years, after a couple seasons of extremely light recruiting at the beginning of the decade. Although their teams have had potential in the past few years, in the world of cross country, youth is a hindrance, not a benefit. By 2016, some of the Waves’ top runners are seniors and juniors, and the underclassmen have potential as well. One of those underclassmen, sophomore phenom Nick Heath, said he expects great things from his team in 2016 due to their strong work ethic and strenuous training schedule.
“I think that the future for our team looks very bright,” Heath said. “In general, the feeling is that we’ve worked very hard over the last few months and few years, really, to get to where we are.”
Heath is Pepperdine’s undisputed leader. You would never guess he was the best runner the Waves have had in decades based on his tendency to downplay his athletic ability, but he suddenly becomes a monster during races, running like he’s a 10-year-old chasing down the ice cream truck. During the Pepperdine Invitational, Heath won the entire event for the second year in a row with a 15:44 5k time and nobody from any of the three teams (which included Long Beach State and UC-Irvine alongside Pepperdine) competing were remotely close to him at the finish line.
Nick Blanchard, another top competitor for Pepperdine, is technically a senior, but only a redshirt junior according to the NCAA. After a sophomore season where he was forced to sit out due to a knee injury, he came back motivated to help lead the team during his junior campaign. During the Pepperdine Invitational, Blanchard placed seventh overall, and second for the Waves. For the rest of the season, Blanchard says he expects more of the same level of excellence from his team and himself.
“I expect big things. We’re in the one of the most competitive conferences, the WCC, and we’ll be mixing it up with some very competitive teams,” Blanchard said. “I want to finish as high in the Conference Meet as possible, maybe make that top-25 in the Conference championships would be nice. But we’re going to take it race-by-race, and just trust the process.”
The final piece of the Waves’ trio of leaders is senior Ben Fox. The Colorado Springs native placed 10th overall and third for Pepperdine at the Pepperdine Invitational, and he said he believes that the men’s XC team might have their best years ahead of them.
“Our team is definitely on an upswing right now. This is the best team we’ve had in I don’t know how many years, definitely more than four,” Fox said. “It’s really exciting because everyone is working together, and we have a really tight group up at the top. If we can get a few more guys in that group, we’re going to have a really solid team.”
All in all, the men’s XC team says to expect great things from them in 2016. Heath said there’s the potential for Pepperdine — or at least a few individuals — to go beyond the WCC Championships and NCAA Regionals this year.
“Getting our team one step closer to being an NCAA Nationals qualifier would be absolutely amazing,” Heath said. “As long as we keep improving, it’s a strong possibility.”
Follow Jackson Hogan on Twitter: @jacksonhogan