Aug. 7, 2006
AUBURN, Ala. -
Building the Foundation...
There are two words that best describe the 2006 Auburn men's and women's cross country teams: young and talented. The goal for second-year head coach Peter Watson is to tap into that potential and build the foundation for a bright future at Auburn.
With premier runner Jordan Davis redshirting the 2006 season, the men's squad returns just a single runner with more than one race of experience.
"We lost everybody," Watson said. "We are looking at Pat Philbin to step up and help lead the team this season."
Philbin, who was battling nagging injuries, ran in six races last season with a best finish of 13th at the Florida State Invitational. The Mechanicsville, Pa., native will be looking to regain his form from the 2004 season where he placed 23rd at the South Regional.
Following Philbin will be two redshirt freshmen looking to make names for themselves this season.
"We will be looking for Scott Novack and Josh Pawlik to step up," Watson said.
"Scott was runner up in state high school two years ago and is a tremendous talent. He had a great summer and looks really fit, while Josh had a good outdoor track season for us in 2006."
Contending for one of the top-five spots will be freshman Simon Nyang, who was one of the Sudanese lost boys and was brought over to the United States a few years back.
"He is an outstanding kid with tremendous talent," Watson said.
A trio of juniors will also be looking to make their mark this year as Chase Oliver, Zach Olsen and Elliot Smith look to break through.
"I don't know who is going to be fifth, or even fourth," Watson said. "It's going to change every weekend and we will see who handles training the best and who is able to step up."
Even with the graduation of three-time All American and SEC champion Angela Homan, there seems to be an air of confidence when Watson talks about the women's team.
"You can't replace Angela Homan as a leader or as an athlete," he said. "However, I think this year's team is better than last year's team because we have a lot of good, new talent coming in."
A big piece of that talent is freshman Laurel Pritchard. The Birmingham native was just the second girl in Alabama to break five minutes in the mile.
"She is a runner," Watson said. "I think she is going to turn some heads and I wouldn't be surprised if she was going to be one of the top freshman runners in the country."
The Tigers will look to rely on a couple of freshman from overseas in Sabrina Fischer and Miriam Arusei. Fischer, a native of Magdeburg, Germany, brings some very impressive track times with her, while Arusei, who hails from Kenya, is a talent who "just looks like a runner with her great stride," Watson said.
Other true freshman looking to make their mark are Amy Shaffer, an Alabama 800-meter state champion and Katelyn Simpson.
"Amy has had a great summer and I think Katelyn has a lot of untapped potential," Watson said.
One returning runner to keep an eye on is junior Laura Steele.
"Laura put in a huge summer and I am counting on her to help us in the scoring position," Watson said.
Senior Denise Daughenbaugh and juniors Becca Bell, Megan Karl and Jessica Smith will also challenge for one of the top-seven spots.
"We think we have the capability to have three people in the top-15 at Regionals," Watson said. "We aren't just relying on one person, we have five or six girls. There are three girls who can score up front and you need that to be successful."
Watson has put together a schedule that he feels best fits his runners and will allow them the best chance to develop and be successful.
"We are taking a pretty low-key schedule this year," he said. "We are going to use September to get ready for the Auburn Invitational, which we think we can do very well at. We will have a low-key October as well and just train to get ready for the SEC Championships. We need these kids to get good quality training and develop over the next couple of years. If training goes well for the next few months, we feel we can do very well at the SEC's, which is ultimately the goal."