There is a common theme running through the Harvard men's and women's cross country teams as they prepare for the 1997 season: improvement.
For the men's squad, it is not hard to understand why. After compiling a mediocre .500 dual meet record and capping off the season with a last place finish at the Heptagonal Championships, there is nowhere to go in the standings but up. Although the stats of last year forbear optimism, the context of the poor standings explain the true rebuilding nature of last year's season.
During the 1996 season, due to injury and overtraining, the team ran without two of its seniors, Ian Carswell and Killian Lonergan.
"Last year, we were missing the two top guns in the conference. We knew that, and the guys [remaining on the team] gained good experience through that," Coach Frank Haggerty said.
The younger members of the team had to step up to fill the spots left open by Carswell and Lonergan.
"We were undermanned and the odds were stacked against us last year, but we should reap some dividends this year," Haggerty said.
Therefore, although the team may still be young with only two seniors and a cluster of sophomores, the members of the squad have more experience than their years might otherwise dictate.
Junior Scott Muoio leads the harriers as captain and as last season's only Harvard men's finisher in the top 25 at HEPS. The trio of sophomores: Darren Dinneen, who missed last year with a stress fracture, David Martin, the team's top freshman from last year, and Brendan Trombly, who will be competing in his first full season on the team, exemplify the young talent on the men's team and will be counted on to round out the squad's top contenders.
The team is looking to put last year behind them and build on the experience they gained.
"Last year is last year," said Muoio. "Our goal is to run faster than last year, to run faster in each meet."
The women harriers are in a different position than their male counterparts. Although last year's squad amassed a 20-3 dual meet record and finished 12th out of 33 teams at HEPS and fifth among the 11 District 1 New England-based teams, many of those key runners were lost to graduation.
Last year's senior class was one of the larger ones in Harvard cross country history. Although many key runners are returning, depth is the main concern for the women's team.
"We're only five or six runners strong," Haggerty said. "[Due to the real possibility for injuries and illness,] the key to our season is how well we develop some depth."
The team's early season performance is already expected to be hampered by one crucial but mending injury. Senior Margaret Angell had surgery on her foot in May and was only able to start training in August. Haggerty predicts that she should be back to full strength by HEPS in late October.
Senior Heather Stroud, who won Academic All-Ivy honors last year, leads the team as captain. The squad will also look to junior Margaret Schotte, who earned second team all-Ivy honors last season, sophomore Kate Moynihan, who completed her first cross country season last year, and a healing Angell to set the pace for the season.
Despite the Crimson's large matriculation of cross country seniors, Harvard appears not to be alone.
"The field is wide open this year with no clear top runners because so many in the top 20 from HEPS graduated," Angell said.
Coach Haggerty best sums up the outlook for both teams by explaining his belief that each team has an evolutionary nature.
"We know where we are coming from, but it is a bit of a mystery as to where we are going," Haggerty said.
Thus, with an optimistic outlook tempered by a bit of skepticism, only time will tell how the men's and women's harriers evolve during the 1997 season.
Coach: Frank Haggerty
Captains: Scott Muoio, Heather Stroud
Key Returnees: Men: Muoio, sophomores Darren Dinneen, David Martin and Brendan Trombly; Women: Seniors Stroud and Margaret Angell, junior Margaret Schotte, sophomore kate moynihan
Key Losses: Men: Brian Dunnkle; Women: Many