GEORGETOWN – Although both Southwestern men's and women's cross country teams took different paths last season, the 2013 campaign opens with promise for both squads to take a giant step in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
For the Pirate women making the next step starts in the way of Lilly Duarte and Kara Koinis. The team captains finished in the top 20 at both the SCAC Championships and the NCAA South/Southeast Region Championships as Duarte was two places from earning a spot at the NCAA National Championships.
Duarte – who is also the school record holder in the 6k and the 800-meter for the track and field team – has carried the Pirate team on her back and will be looked at again for senior leadership. She was named USTFCCCA all-Region in 2012 and earned equally high praise from head coach Francie Larrieu Smith.
"We have a great group of seniors led by Lilly and Kara," Smith said. "As team captains, both continue to not only lead by example but they have helped set a high standard on the course."
With seven returners for the Pirate women, the competition will be as high as ever. However, Smith feels that the team camaraderie adds a great dynamic that hopefully pushes the Pirates to the top of the SCAC.
"After coming close last year with a third place finish, I think our girls are hungry," Smith said. "They all get along so well, but also do a really good job of working together and pushing each other. From top to bottom I don't feel like we have any weak links."
For the Pirate men, Smith feels as though this could be a break-through season as well; however it will come with new faces with only three returners.
"We have a good core on the men's side and our team captains are making this a fun group," Smith said. "There is a lot of positive energy in this team and if our consistency continues to improve week-to-week this team will make huge strides."
Some of the improvements Smith mentioned were noticeable at the end of last season. The Pirates fought to finish third at the SCAC Championships and although the finish was not what she had hoped for at the NCAA South/Southeast Regional there is plenty to be excited for in 2013.
"Philip Davis, Alex Medrano and Joe Sponsel could all figure in the top three for us this year and that's exciting because this is Joe's first year of cross country," Smith noted. "We also add Alec Bergerson who has had a successful tennis career at Southwestern and brings a winning attitude."
Although this is Sponsel's first season on the cross country course, he is no stranger to Pirate athletics either, after spending three seasons on the men's soccer team and one on the track and field team. Davis and Medrano also continued to improve late last season as Davis raced his best time at the SCAC Championships, while Medrano's came at the NCAA Regional Championships in November.
"This is exciting seeing the men come together," Smith said. "We still have some technique to work on but the dedication and desire to be better is there. I think they can surprise a lot of people by the end of the season."