NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Despite fielding a team comprised of primarily underclassmen – including five freshmen on a roster of 12 – the Merrimack men's cross country team set new heights this fall and has laid the foundation for what promises to be an extremely competitive team next fall.
Highlighted by a second-place team finish in the Shacklette Invitational and an overall team victory at the Rivier Invitational, the Warriors competed in seven events this season, and despite a youthful lineup, head coach Chris Cameron experienced far fewer growing pains than one might have anticipated at the beginning of the season.
"We only graduate one senior and I feel we have a good core to build on," Cameron said of the season's success while providing a look to next year. "The key to this young a group is staying consistent and training with each other year round. As long as we do this, I'm excited to see how well this group can perform moving forward."
That one senior is John Lawrence (Peabody, Mass.), who was named a team captain prior to the season and provided leadership and direction on a squad that was in the thick of the Northeast-10 Conference Championship (8th) and the NCAA Regional Championship (10th), as well. Lawrence wrapped up his impressive cross country career with a pair of top-10 finishes, including a ninth-place finish in the Rivier Invitational.
Rookie runner Nick Christensen (Peabody, Mass.) enjoyed a stellar debut campaign for the Warriors. The freshman and nearby Peabody, Mass., product won his first collegiate race at the Rivier Invitational and placed in the top 10 in both the Skyhawk Relays (9th) and the Shacklette Invitational (6th) a week later. Christensen was recognized by the league for his impressive work en route to being named the NE-10 Athlete/Rookie of the Week following his win at the Rivier.
Alongside Christensen throughout the season was sophomore transfer Sherif Ali (Cliffside Park, N.J.), who posted three top-10 performances on the year. The New Jersey native helped the Warrio relay team finish in ninth at the Skyhawk Relays before placing eighth in the Shacklette Invitational. Ali's best performance came at the Rivier Invitational, where he notched a runner-up finish behind only Christensen.
Fellow freshmen Adam Gidley (Salem, N.H.) and Aaron Maurais (Hopedale, Mass.) were integral to the team's success, as well. The former posted a career-best sixth-place finish at the Rivier Invitational and finished inside the top-50 in the NE-10s, while the latter finished in third at the Rivier Invitational and in 12th at the Shacklette Invitational.
Not to be forgotten in the pack were sophomores Luis Cruz (Lawrence, Mass.) and Joseph Smith (Medfield, Mass.). The two underclassmen ran consistently throughout the year and appeared in all of the team's competitions. They, along with the remaining components of a young lineup, should help the Warriors take even greater strides next fall.
With the transition from high school to college, Cameron understood the adjustment that the young student-athletes were facing early on in their careers and that the team's success would depend on their successful transition.
Not only did the Warriors make those adjustments as the year progressed, but that early experience should now propel them to even further heights this winter and spring with the indoor and outdoor track and field teams.
"With such a young team, we were a little more cautious with the amount of mileage we gave them," Cameron said. "We hope to increase their mileage throughout the winter and spring, and hopefully this will pay big dividends during their track seasons."
While the Warriors might have been a bit hampered by the injury bug this fall, Cameron believes that with consistent training and an aggressive continued recruiting philosophy, Merrimack should be right back on track and ready to aim higher next season.
"As always, consistency and staying healthy is the key. We're looking to add recruits who can step right in and compete for one of the top seven varsity spots. This will create a healthy competition amongst the team and help us improve as we move forward."
For updates of the Merrimack men's cross country program throughout the offseason, check back online at www.merrimackathletics.com.
This is the third in a series of recaps summarizing a successful fall season at Merrimack.
November 29: Women's Crew
November 30: Women's Cross Country
December 3: Women's Golf
December 4: Men's Cross Country
December 5: Volleyball
December 6: Women's Soccer
December 7: Football
December 10: Field Hockey
December 11: Men's Soccer