The Harper College men's cross country team toes the starting line today at 10 a.m. in the Harper Invite.
There is a new voice leading the cross country program this season. Gone is the men's and women's coach of the year Paul Paynter, who resigned in February.
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Enter former Schaumburg High School cross country coach Jim Macnider.
The team has a plethora of returning talent along with some promising newcomers under Macnider's guidance, and he has high hopes for this group.
"(We) can contend to be a top-three (team) at nationals and possibly win (the national title)," Macnider said.
Of the six returning sophomores, three participated in last year's NJCAA national meet. The leader of the group of Hawks is sophomore Ryan Wojdyla (Palatine), who placed sixth individually in last season's national championship meet. Two more returning national competitors are Alec Walker (Crystal Lake South) and Jake Marchewka.
Cisco Soto (Lake Zurich), a national champ in the 1,500 meters in the spring, and Steve Heer (Rolling Meadows) round out the sophomore contingent.
The most prized recruits this season may be Troy Cunningham (Conant) and Zach Gates (Palatine). Gates was a member of Palatine's 3,200-meter relay state qualifier that set a school record. Macnider is unsure when or if he Gates will contribute this season; he is suffering from shin splints.
Cunningham qualified for the state cross country and track meets last season. Macnider called Cunningham "a very talented young man."
Also new to the Harper roster are Colin Weber (Wheeling) and Andrew Gallo (Buffalo Grove).
"We are more talented (than last year)" Macnider said.
The Hawks will face a tough schedule. The toughest meet may be the North Central Open on Oct. 21. The Cardinals are the top-ranked team in the Division III preseason midwest regional rankings.
Also on the docket for this season are two meets against Division I teams. The first is on Sept. 16, when the Hawks travel to Illinois State to take part in the Illinois Intercollegiate. On Sept. 24, the Hawks take part in prestigious Griak Invite, hosted by the Univeristy of Minnesota.