Philips Jennings, the College’s new cross country coach, inherits a program that has seen its men’s and women’s squads tally a combined 21 New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) titles over the past 11 years.
The rookie coach has no concerns about living up to such prior success this year, though.
“I’ve been in the program for two years,” said Jennings, who served as a graduate assistant to former-coach Steve Dolan the last two seasons and assumed the head coaching job this summer.
Before coming to the College, Jennings served as an assistant coach at Rider University in 2003.
“I feel very comfortable with this program,” he said. “We have some talented runners and we’re going to continue down that same path.”
“We expect to be one of the top three teams in the region, win (both) NJACs again and continue to improve week to week,” Jennings added. “Our biggest goal is to do well at regionals and nationals.”
Although the men’s squad lost seven seniors from last year’s team, which finished 18th at the NCAA Division III Championships, Jennings does not anticipate a down year.
“We have a good number of guys going pretty strong right now,” he said. “I expect them to come out and run pretty well.”
Seniors Matt Randal, Dave dos Santos, Mark Altenau, and sophomores Brian Kopnicki, Kyle Aplaugh and Anthony Arnold will need to lead the team in place of the departed senior leaders, namely Brian Donovan and Matt Molski, last year’s male NJAC runner-of-the-year.
Additionally, Jennings hopes incoming freshmen Greg Bull, Chris Guerrero and Matt Dolan have the legs to play a role upon arrival.
The women’s squad, which captured its 10th straight NJAC title but failed to qualify for nationals last fall, returns with a nearly identical roster.
“I expect these women to be more motivated than ever and come back and have a great season,” Jennings said.
Heading the list of key returnees is senior Jenna Fasulo, last year’s female NJAC runner-of-the-year.
“It’s great (to have Fasulo back),” Jennings said. “She’ll be a big leader for our team whether it be on race day or practice.”
Seniors Sarah Spilman and Kara Horner will also be instrumental in avenging last year’s disappointing finish, while freshmen Megan O’Leary and Martin McGrath could emerge as contributors.
Capturing the NJAC championship again this year would be an antonishing 22nd title in 25 years for the women’s team.
Both teams will open the season on Sept. 10 at the Connecticut College Invitational at 11:30 a.m.