Panthers Set To Open Cross Country Season

By  //  August 30, 2012

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Kirui, Fonseca Top Returners

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Florida Tech’s men’s and women’s cross country teams kick off their seasons Friday, traveling west to Sidney Dover Trails in Brandon for the Tampa Early Bird Classic.

Florida Tech's men's and women's cross country teams will open up the 2012 season Friday in the Tampa Early Bird Classic. (Image courtesy Florida Tech)

“Winning is important,” Panthers head coach Pete Mazzone said. “But winning the last meet is much more important to me than winning the first meet. I want to see our runners get confident in their abilities and get their feet wet.”

The men return four of their top five runners from last season’s NCAA South Regional, a race that found the Panthers in fifth place.

This season, the preseason poll sees the Crimson and Gray in the third position. Florida Southern marks the only Sunshine State Conference squad ahead of Florida Tech in the poll. The Mocs are ranked second in the South Region.

“They’re working hard,” Mazzone said. “On paper, we look very good, but we don’t run on paper.”

Upperclassmen

The men’s team will be led by a trio of upperclassmen, who each finished in the top 25 at the South Regional race.

David Boiywo and Chris Cacciapaglia finished the race in 21st and 23rd place, respectively. Boiywo stood atop the podium earlier in the season with a first place finish in the Florida Tech Invitational.

The top returner is senior standout Moses Kirui. He raced his way to the NCAA Championships after taking the top spot in the Sunshine State Conference Championship. The senior held the top spot at the South Regional, as well.

“Those three train pretty tough together,” Mazzone said of his veteran leadership. “They are a tremendous influence on all the others to see how hard you have to work.”

A pair of sophomores — Ezekiel Zauner and Justin McMaster – will add to the returning depth of the squad.

The women’s team is faced with the task of replacing NCAA Championship qualifier Nicole Clarke. She led the team last season, finishing third in the Sunshine State Conference Championships and fourth in the NCAA South Regional.

Pete Mazzone is the head men's and women's cross country coach for the Florida Tech Panthers. (Image courtesy Florida Tech)

That leadership role will fall into the capable hands of senior Stephanie Fonseca. Fonseca finished the 2011 season strong with a top-10 finish in the SSC Championship before a 12th place run in the regional race.

“Stephanie is a talent,” Mazzone said. “She is a workhorse.”

Experience

Upperclassmen Dorian Magee, Tomena Scholze, Brianna Fugere and Brittany Reinard each bring experience and depth to the women’s team.

“Brianna is back, and she is a very good track girl,” Mazzone said. “She had a good track season and I know that transfers over to cross country because she can put miles in. Brittany is in the best shape she’s been in since she was a freshman, mentally and physically.”

Rounding out the Panthers’ roster are newcomers Sarah Zimmer, Natasha Sturkie and Latasha Sturkie. Natasha and Latasha Sturkie are twin graduate students with NCAA experience at Jacksonville State.

“You don’t get to a high caliber of Division I like they did without a work ethic and an attitude to win,” Mazzone said speaking of the twin transfers. “They will be a big help.”

Florida Tech’s women’s team was picked to finish ninth in the South Region in the preseason poll. Three SSC teams (Tampa, Nova Southeastern and Saint Leo) were picked above the Panthers in the region.

The Tampa Early Bird Classic is set to begin at 5:30 on Friday, with the men taking to the course first and the women immediately following.


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