Oct. 24, 2011
By Myles Udland
“Who is that guy?” is men’s cross country coach Rich Miller’s favorite question to answer. But for Miller, answering this question begins long before race day.
During the first week of class, Miller puts his squad through an 8- and 5-mile time-trial. These runs are notoriously grueling. “There are always questions coming into a season,” says Miller. But the August heat and intra-squad competition begin to provide Miller answers of just what he has in a given year. And for the 2011 Huskies, the answers have been good ones.
Their victory at the New England Championships on October 8th epitomized, for Miller, what his program is all about. “We are a blue-collar program, and a team of opportunity,” says Miller. The hot conditions at Franklin Park and the team tactics employed by the Huskies allowed them to capitalize on an opportunity and seize team victory. “Our victory at New England’s came down to sticking to the plan. We started the race aggressively, but held together as a group,” says Miller. “We worked together all the way.”
In collegiate cross country, pack running is the key to any team’s success. And for the first time in Miller’s tenure, he has a group that can successfully execute this plan. “We’re no longer out there running five different races,” says Miller. “This year, we have five guys who can work together.” But even the most passionate cross country fan may still find themselves asking Miller just who, exactly, are those guys.
Co-captain Scott Johnson anchors this year’s squad. “Scott was primarily a middle-distance runner coming out of high school,” says Miller. “But Scott has done everything we’ve asked of him, and this season he’s in the best shape of his life.” Joining Johnson in the scoring five is his fellow co-captain Nick Aguila. “Nick is a guy who didn’t even make the team his freshman year.” But Aguila’s perseverance has landed him a leading role on this year’s squad.
Third-year athletes Ryan McGuire and Jordan Magath also join Johnson and Aguila in the Huskies lead pack. “Ryan and Jordan are guys who have come a long way from high school, and are ready to be solid Division I cross country runners,” says Miller. Freshman Bryan Fowler joins these four veterans in the scoring five for the Huskies, but like any good cross country team, the Huskies run deeper than their scoring five. Twins Tim and Alex Bennatan, who are primarily 800m/1500m runners, have increased their weekly mileage and been key members of this year’s team. “The Bennatan’s took their training a level up this summer, and they’ve been valuable in both training and racing.”
This year’s team, as a collective, has also handled a more intense training regimen than Miller has previously been able to direct. “In the past I’ve always had to compromise either volume or intensity in our training program,” says Miller. “But the commitment of this year’s team has allowed our training to come together.” And in cross country, the cliché that performance in practice predicts performance in competition holds more true than in perhaps any other sport. For cross country is a seven days a week, twelve months a year sport that requires intense commitment from an athlete. But honest and prolonged commitment to the sport will not go unrewarded.
As a coach, Miller is enjoys the personal development on an athlete as much as their athletic development. “We try to develop men in our program,” says Miller. “We take average high school runners and try to turn them into all-Big East caliber runners. The maturation of an athlete is what is rewarding as a coach.”
So as this year’s squad looks towards the Big East championships next weekend in Louisville, they will face their toughest challenge yet. National powers Georgetown, Providence, Villanova, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Louisville all have rosters full of All-Americans. “Going into a meet like Big East’s, we know who we can beat, and we know who we should beat,” says Miller. “And if there’s an opportunity to beat a team, we want to be in a position to take advantage of that.”
They’re opportunists, these Huskies. But to take advantage of these opportunities they can do just one thing: they can only stick together.