The Pointers Men’s Cross Country team is off to another solid start under the guidance of Head Coach Rick Witt.
The Pointers had a great season last year but fell just short of making it to Nationals. After a strong 2012 performance, senior Dan Sullivan is looking to make the most of his final year. Sullivan led the Pointers last year and has even bigger goals for the 2013 season.
Sullivan finished 24th at the Midwest Regionals last year and is raising his expectations not only for himself, but for the team as well.
“I definitely want to be an All-American and I want the team to be in Nationals,” Sullivan said.
James Heroux is also in his senior year and, like Sullivan, Heroux wants the Pointers back in Nationals. The last time Stevens Point made it to Nationals was in 2010 when they finished sixth overall in the Division III Championship.
For Heroux, he is facing the pressure of becoming the top-tier runner for the team.
“The big challenge is being one of those top three or four guys onthe team consistently,” Heroux said. “Running is the definition of you get out what you get in.”
With the leaders focused on bringing the team to Nationals, the underclassmen have stepped up in a number of ways.
With the impressive surge of sophomore Alex Gonzales, Witt has been glad to see the younger athletes take advantage of the opportunities.
“He’s a young guy that has made a big step forward. He’s only a sophomore and he has made some big steps,” Witt said.
Gonzales led the Pointers at the Madison Kiwanis Cross Country Invitational, the first invite of the 2013 season.
Gonzales worked hard over the summer and found his groove. He has also been encouraging his team in practice.
“We’ve been pushing each other and motivating each other. When we’re running in packs, we do not let go because we’re trying to get that race feel,” Gonzales said.
Witt is entering his 36th season as the Head Coach of the Cross Country team. Recognized nationally for his success throughout his coaching career, Witt gave this as his description of cross-country:
“Distance running is a very unique sport. You have to be able to handle feeling bad for a long time,” Witt said. “Cross country running is about becoming comfortable, being uncomfortable.”
“You have to get to where feeling bad, you get used to it. That comes from work. That’s where training, learning, and that type of thing come into play. That makes a huge difference,” Witt said.
With many years of coaching experience under his belt, Witt is encouraging his team to push as hard as they can this season.
“My motivation is to challenge these guys and giving them a realistic expectation of what I think they are being able to accomplish,” Witt said.
What makes Witt a unique coach is his ability to develop his runners by enforcing the mental part of cross country.
“I think one of my strongest suits as a coach is to be able to recognize what I think your abilities are over time and then convincing you that you’re capable of achieving this level of expectation,” Witt said.
The impact Witt has made among his athletes does not go unnoticed. “He’s done everything. He’s a genius coach, so I listen to whatever he tells me,” Sullivan said.
There has also been influence on the younger athletes. “He’s motivating me to keep going and pushing myself to the next level. He’s going to tell us if we suck or if we’re doing well,” Gonzales said.
The Pointers are looking to capitalize on last year through the experience of their leaders and the younger teammates who are still adapting to the college level of cross country. This makes the Pointers a very well balanced team not only in the present, but also the future.
Every invitational on the Pointers schedule is a challenge, as the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is arguably the toughest in the nation.
“I will tell you this is the strongest conference in cross country. We’re ranked in the top 20, but ranked sixth in the WIAC Conference,” Witt said. “Every time we go to a meet, we’re running against a top 20 team in the country.”
This season, the Pointers will prove how capable the team is at handling their conference.
The Pointers are preparing for the 58th annual Notre Dame Invitational, taking place Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. in South Bend, Indiana.