Aug 30, 2013
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama opens its season with a dual meet against Samford University on Saturday at Veterans Park in Hoover. The women will run a two-mile course at 7:30 a.m. followed by the men's 5k at 7:50 a.m. Live results will be available on Samford's Athletics website, samfordsports.com.
The Crimson Tide enters 2013 with hopes of improvement after an inconsistent 2012 season in which a freshman-heavy squad gained valuable experience and developed into a competitive team on the conference and regional levels. A total of 16 runners (8 men, 8 women) return for head coach Dan Waters and distance coach Adam Tribble.
The veterans join 10 newcomers (4 men, 6 women) on a team that was 11th in both divisions at the 2012 SEC Championships. Among the newcomers, junior college transfer Matt Airola (American River CC, California) is expected to lead the men's team while sophomore Katelyn Greenleaf, freshmen Hilary Stafford (London, Ontario) and Allison Gregg (Cedar Falls, Iowa) should provide a boost to the women's squad.
"We're looking to take the next step for both teams this fall and I think we are ready to do that," says head coach Dan Waters. "We were a heavily freshman team last year, and now those freshmen are sophomores. They have adapted to the college level and have trained well. We expect them to be ready to compete, not just hang on. We have a core group of runners on both teams that have the talent to compete when it truly counts, and we are hopeful that they will develop that talent as the season progresses."
In year three under the direction of coaches Waters and Tribble, the Alabama men's team enters the 2013 season continuing to improve and build competitively as the Tide is on pace in its rebuilding of the program. The Alabama men had a 2012 season that is typical for a team made up of largely inexperienced runners on the college scene as they adjusted to the cumulative effects of a higher level of competition, the training that is involved as well as the longer races. The unit improved as the cross country season progressed and through the track season. Based on results from the spring and summer, Waters and Tribble are optimistic that their young runners are ready to move up the ladder this season.
"There's talent there, no question," Waters says. "But it takes time. We will improve this season; it's just a matter of how much. That depends on their maturity. Can we stay focused? Can we have our best races when it counts the most? Coach Tribble is going to have them ready to go for the championship portion of the season. That gives me confidence that we can build on the success we saw on the track in the spring."
Airola is a former California junior college cross country champion and the team's most versatile distance athlete, and he will be looked to for leadership and the ability to help his younger teammates raise their level of performance. Among the sophomores, Parker Deuel has the ability to help the younger pack of runners raise their level. Deuel showed potential last season and during track season and Waters is hopeful that he can develop into a factor for the cross country team.
"We're still developing into what we want to be, but we can take a big step this year," says Waters. "It will be interesting to see what role each guy steps into and how well they fill those roles, but we are expecting improvement this season."
Waters' thoughts on several of the Tide's male runners:
Matt Airola - "Matt is our most experience and versatile runner and he has been interesting to watch because he has become very competitive at this level in a very short time. He ran unattached last year on the track while he redshirted in the outdoor season, but he showed tremendous potential. He knows how to run cross country and there's no telling what he can do. He has an amazing ability to hang with the pace of a race, and then move off the pack when the time is right. That will be a key factor in helping our younger runners in races."
Justin Ahalt - "Justin had a real promising outdoor season and he came back this fall in great shape. I think he is capable of some spectacular performances. I just hope he does that at the right time. I am challenging him to run 25:20 for 8k this season."
Parker Deuel - "He has the ability to be the catalyst for our team because he is developing into a runner that can compete among the best in the league. He has the attitude and approach that can bring the rest of our team along. He's crucial to our plans this season."
Gil Walton - "Gil started out well for us last season and has potential. After some minor injuries during the summer, he is healthy and ready to compete. Gil is important to our team because of his ability to run at a competitive pace. We hope he will improve as the season progresses. If he does, that will really help our younger guys."
Conner Thompson - "Conner's a guy that is used to competing against elite runners. He had an exceptional high school career racing against some of the best kids in the nation and running times that show he can be competitive in the SEC. He's an athlete whose best days are ahead of him. We're excited about his potential. He can handle hard training better than most athletes his age and has fit in well quickly with our team."
The Tide women made marked improvement over the course of the 2012 season, eventually finishing sixth at the NCAA South Region meet. Sophomore Katelyn Greenleaf led the way with a top-20 finish at the SEC Championships as a true freshman. Freshmen Hilary Stafford and Allison Gregg have the talent to develop into top collegiate runners with experience. While Meropi Panagiotou is the team's move versatile distance talent, Waters and Tribble also expect improvement from Kimberley Ficenec, Rebecca Stover and Susie Kemper among others.
"We have several women that are on pace to become a factor on the conference level and beyond," says Waters. "Katelyn will lead the way for us again this year, but our other runners have shown enough potential to make me truly believe we have tremendous upside potential from top to bottom."
Greenleaf had an excellent track season, after a cross country year in which she consistently led Alabama finishers in every meet and continued to improve as the meets rose in importance. Ficenec showed exceptional ability as an 800-meter runner during track season and has adjusted to cross country on the collegiate level. Stover showed consistent improvement last year and appears ready to step up to help lead the team. Panagiotou is a solid competitor with experience. Gregg and Stafford are seasoned cross country runners that figure to add punch to an already solid lineup.
"The roles on our women's team are pretty much set, so our identity is more defined on that team," says Waters. "That factor alone puts our women's team further along in developing into a contender."
Waters' thoughts on several of the Tide's female runners:
Kimberley Ficenec - "Kimmy showed that she has tremendous potential on the track in the 800, and she made great progress in cross country last season and over this summer. She will make good progress this fall and will help us compete. She has become much more adept at the 6k distance and that will really help her development."
Meropi Panagiotou - "Meropi's a versatile distance runner who can do some great things for us. The most valuable thing she brings to our team right now is her potential to be a key runner in helping tighten up our running pack during races. She can help keep our scoring spread of runners 1 to 5 much tighter. That's a valuable role to have on this team."
Katelyn Greenleaf - "She had a really phenomenal freshman year where she improved dramatically over the course of the season. She has come into camp this summer in excellent shape and looks ready to lead our team. After coming in as a top-20 finisher at SECs as a freshman, we have big hopes for her. She knows how good she is and is in excellent shape."
Hilary Stafford - "Her high school times were among the best in the nation and she has tremendous upside in cross country. She's a true cross country runner. She came in ready to compete for us after running a late summer racing season, so we expect her to step in and be a factor for us."
Rebecca Stover - "Rebecca had a good season on the track running the steeplechase and really developed a lot last year. She has really transformed herself into a different athlete over the course of the last year. She has built off the training she did last year and lifts up everyone on the team when she raises her competitive level."
Alabama has a 2013 slate that will provide the team with a chance to compete with a variety of schools from around the nation. The Tide opens the 2013 season at the Samford Opener in Birmingham on August 31, and then travels to the Iowa Classic in Iowa City on September 13. Alabama travels to Bethlehem, Pa., for the Paul Short Invitational on October 5 before returning home for the first of two meets the Tide will host this season - the Crimson Classic in Tuscaloosa on October 18 and the NCAA South Regional Championships in Tuscaloosa on November 15. Both home meets will be run at the Harry Pritchett Running Course. The SEC Championships will be held on November 1 in Gainesville, Fla., hosted by the University of Florida. The NCAA Championships will be held in Terre Haute, Ind., on November 23.
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