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2009 Clemson Cross Country Outlook

Sept. 8, 2009

There was a period of time from the late 1970s through the 1980s when Clemson was one of the premier cross country programs in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The men’s team captured seven conference championships between 1978 and 1988, while the women claimed the trophy in 1986 and finished runner-up six times during the `80s.

Lawrence Johnson, now in his second year as Clemson’s Director of Cross Country and Track & Field, sent the signal loud and clear in the offseason that the Tiger program yearns to return to the glory of years past. He did this with the hiring of young and energetic coach Brad Herbster, who built an impressive résumé from 2002-09 with the Charlotte 49ers. Herbster sees no reason the cross country teams at Clemson can’t return to the upper echelon of the conference.

“We have 17,000 acres of forest in our back yard,” Herbster explained, shortly after taking the job. “Our student-athletes are allowed to train in a place that is outstanding. Clemson has got the trails and the facilities to compete at the highest level. But the big factor in me coming here was the vision Coach Johnson has for this program.”

While Herbster admits to having a plan in place for Clemson to take the next step in cross country, he admits it will not happen overnight.

“The biggest challenge is getting confidence in the kids’ heads,” Herbster said. “We have to take the current group of kids we have and make them understand, `You’re at Clemson. Run like it, train like it, and act like it.’ As a coach, it’s all about recruiting and developing kids. I’m trying to get on both aspects, while getting to know the town and the best places to train, all within a short time period.”

Women A quick look at Clemson’s 2008 season reveals an eighth-place team finish and 10th-place effort for the women at the Southeast Regionals. However, the Tigers were just 64 points out of second place at ACCs and return four of their five scorers from both meets.

“When you look at the ACC results from last season, there were four or five teams that could have gone either way,” Herbster noted. “The competition was that close, and our girls were right there in the thick of it.”

The two key pieces to the women’s roster return for Clemson in junior Jenna Baker (Bellevue, Ohio) and sophomore Kim Ruck (Greer, S.C.). Last year, Baker became the first women’s cross country athlete in 10 years to earn both All-ACC and All-Region honors. Baker was 13th at the ACC Championships, followed by a 12th-place showing at regionals. She was the team’s top finisher in six consecutive meets to end the season. A veteran of two years, Baker appears poised to make a move into the top group of female harriers in the conference and Southeast region.

“Jenna’s expectations are big, and they should be,” Herbster said. “The region will be a little stronger this year than it was last year. But with her improvement and her drive, she could be the first female to make it to nationals for Clemson in a long time (1993). She can make a serious run at it.”

Herbster is quick to point out Baker is coming off a study abroad program, so her training during the summer has been “a little spotty.” Baker will come along slowly in the fall as the meets build toward the ACC Championships.

Ruck came out of nowhere to be one of the real surprises in all of Clemson athletics during the 2008-09 academic year. A standout soccer player in high school, she walked on to the cross country team last fall with zero experience and was Clemson’s No. 2 runner at the ACC Championships and a solid scorer at the Southeast Regionals. Ruck’s 20th-place effort at the league meet in Chapel Hill, N.C. was nothing short of phenomenal.

“To have an athlete like Kim Ruck, to get someone like that excited about this sport, it excites me to work with someone like that,” Herbster said. “Kim is a natural. She’s got the tools to be on that national level.”

While Baker and Ruck are solidified as the 1-2 punch for the women’s team, the battle for the remaining three scoring spots should be a competitive one throughout the season. Clemson has plenty of candidates, including juniors Stephanie Buffo (Spartanburg, S.C.) and Joanie Castagno (New Castle, Del.). Joanie was the team’s No. 3 performer at regionals a season ago, and she will be re-joined by her twin sister Annie this season as well. Annie competed for the Tiger program in 2007.

Others expected to add to the depth of the women’s squad this season include seniors Maggie Bernard (Charlotte, N.C.), Lauren Klas (Greenville, S.C.) and Ashley Vaughn (Monroe, N.C.); junior Abby Iselborn (Portland, Maine) and a large sophomore class, led by Alyssa Kulik (Simpsonville, S.C.). Kulik was a scorer in a pair of events last fall and was just outside of scoring position in her first trip to the ACC Championships.

The women’s team will usher in six rookies this fall, led by cross country club team veteran Kelsey Armstrong (Talbott, Tenn.). She was the national club cross country champion in 2008, and was a part of two state championship teams at Morristown West High School in Tennessee. Lauren Reen (Orlando, Fla.) could also see action this fall. She was an All-State soccer player for Bishop Moore Catholic High School, and also a five-time medalist in track & field at the state championships.

Men Clemson returns everyone from its 2008 roster except Sam Bryfczynski, whose eligibility expired after a solid career. The Tigers also regain the services of senior Bryce Iverson (Manassas, Va.), who was injured last fall. Iverson is a former All-ACC and All-Region competitor, and will be looked upon as one of the team leaders this season. In 2006, his sophomore season, Iverson was one of the most impressive distance runners in the Southeast. He was 21st at the demanding Pre-Nationals race in Terre Haute, Ind., the same course that plays host to the NCAA Championships each November.

Will Noble (Gray Court, S.C.) also returns as a red-shirt senior for the men’s team. Noble was the team’s No. 2 finisher last season at the ACC Championships, and has been a productive member of the cross country squad despite specializing in middle distance as a track athlete. Noble continues to show improvement year in and year out for the Tiger cross country team.

One of the steadiest performers throughout the course of the 2008 season was Jonathan Sunde (Charlotte, N.C.), now a junior. The All-ACC Academic Team selection scored in all but one meet last season. He was the team’s No. 2 finisher at both the ACC Championships (39th) and Southeast Regionals (44th).

“Jonathan will be solid for us,” Herbster said. “I really feel like he will have a good year. He had a good summer as far as his training is concerned.”

Other veterans returning to the team in 2009 are juniors Chad Holt (Greenville, S.C.), Tyler Morey (Combined Locks, Wis.), Shane Reighard (Clemson, S.C.) and Chris Slate (Wilmington, Del.); and sophomore Jasen Turnbull (Northville, Mich.). Holt was a scorer last season at the Southeast Regionals, while Morey has “put in the mileage this summer that should allow him to do some good things” according to Herbster. Slate could be a wildcard this season. He began to improve his times late last season, to the point where he contributed scoring efforts at both the ACCs and regionals.

Like the women’s team, the men will welcome a number of new faces this season. Chris Ostrouchov (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) is one of the candidates to work his way into the lineup this season. He was an All-State performer on three championship teams at Oak Ridge High School. Blake Kennedy (Alpharetta, Ga.) could also see action this season. He was Fulton County Runner-of-the-Year in 2008.