No University of Dayton athletics program has come further in the past two years than men’s and women’s cross country.
Coach Jason Ordway led the Dayton Flyers men’s team to its first Atlantic 10 championship in 2016, his second season as head coach. Then he took over the women’s team in 2017 and led the men’s and women’s teams to conference championships last fall.
Staying at the top of the A-10 remains the goal when the 2018 season begins. They first race Sept. 1 at the Queen City Invitational.
“We should come into this next year as the preseason favorite and with this really strong group of seniors we have coming up on the men’s side, we’re looking to repeat,” Ordway said. “Our goal is to become a program that is consistently in the top two or top three, if not challenging for a title every year. This group has really come along and developed really well. We’ve got a couple of strong leaders on the women’s side as well. We lost a little bit of firepower with the big senior class, but we brought in a big group of freshmen who will hopefully fill in some gaps.”
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Here are five things to know about the teams:
1. Men's leaders: Senior Chris Negri, the Ohio Runner of the Year in Division I, will compete with junior J.P. Flavin to be Dayton's top runner. They finished third and fourth overall at the A-10 championships.
Senior Spencer Danielson, Dayton’s third runner at the A-10 meet with a 13th-place finish, also returns.
“There’s a healthy amount of competition because we all know we want to get better,” Ordway said, “but our biggest thing is, ‘What can you do to contribute and help the team?’ Some of the guys who are little more developmental right now are just trying to push the returners to make sure we have as strong a top five or top seven as we can, and then once those guys graduate, we’ll have other guys ready in the pipeline to try to take their place afterward.”
2. Top women: Senior Taylor Vernot, the team's top finisher at the A-10 championship the last two years, will compete with senior Emily Borchers for the top spot.
“Borchers has got consistently better every season to the point where she should be challenging Taylor up front,” Ordway said, “so we have a really nice one-two punch.”
Ordway expects senior Allison Triskett to round out the top three.
3. Improved runners: Sophomore Mike Laughlin, a Carroll graduate, should be one of the most improved members of the men's team. He made the All-A-10 rookie team last season. Colin Lamb is another runner who showed promise as a freshman.
Two freshmen from Illinois could compete for spots in the top seven: Brandon Christopher and Sean Macgregor.
The women’s team will also lean on its freshman class. Of the six newcomers, Ordway expects two to be in the top five or seven.
4. Great expectations: The first championship for the women's team, following a runner-up finish in 2016, raised the bar for the program.
“It was huge,” Ordway said. “They really welcomed me with open arms when I first got here, and I was the candidate they wanted. Getting that team title really shored up the relationship between me and the women on the team. Having that and wanting to get back there again, knowing what it takes to get there, knowing how much work it took to get to that point, to get the monkey off our back, now if we want to be in this position every year, we have to stay focused and do the work in the summer and that will lead to potential in the fall.”
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5. Schedule change: The Flyers will compete in two events at Notre Dame in September, racing at the National Catholic Invitational 5K on Sept. 13 and the Joe Piane Meet on Sept. 28. They will not compete at the All-Ohio championship.
“The All-Ohio championships were a really good meet for us in the past,” Ordway said. “The men and women won it this past year. The location is moving away from Cedarville, which is really close to us, to Akron, which is a bit further away. Now we’re getting to the point where the men’s team especially — and the women’s team — is good enough that we’re trying to chase after national qualifying points. To do that, we need to go to some bigger meets to see bigger competition we don’t normally see. The second time we’re going to Notre Dame is one of the first weekends of the year you can try to get some of those points and race really good teams. We’ve had good success on that course in the past, and we like it. We just thought going back there on that weekend instead of going to the All-Ohio championships will put us in a better situation to succeed long term in the postseason at the end of the year.”