Up and running: cross-country teams lay the foundation for future success – UMSL Daily

UMSL men’s cross country runners, led by sophomore Jacob Warner (98), escape the start line during the season opener Walt Crawford Panther Invitational in Charleston, Illinois. (Photos by August Jennewein)

The sun had only recently peaked on the horizon, and the campus was silent as members of the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ cross country team raced together for the first time in August.

Sophomore Sean Ede and his teammates chatted easily, with no one to interrupt, as they moved through the damp morning air and hilly terrain a week before the start of the fall semester.

They had to work not to impose a too sustained pace.

“We could feel the energy,” Ede says. “I had to warn everyone before I started running. I said, ‘I don’t want this to turn into an energy-powered race where we all run 6.30am 7 miles for no reason. We must remain constant. We are going to have training this week. We have to make sure we don’t go crazy.

The excitement was understandable as they kicked off training for the program’s first full competitive season after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their inaugural year, limiting them to just two races amid quarantines and cancellations .

It wasn’t the first coach Steve Picucci had ever considered, and he had had plenty of time to dream of it since he was hired in September 2019 to revive a men’s team that had been dormant since 1983 and establish a women’s cross country team. -country.

UMSL coach Steve Picucci chats with cross country runners (left to right) Kayley Heeter, Peyton Brueck and Kennedy Moore before a race

UMSL coach Steve Picucci talks to cross country runners (L to R) Kayley Heeter, Peyton Brueck and Kennedy Moore before a race in September in Charleston, Illinois.

Picucci has had a record of success, most recently at Division I Morehead State, where he guided the men’s cross country team to two second places and a third place in the Ohio Valley Conference during from the previous five seasons.

He and his wife, retired elite marathon runner Tina Muir from Great Britain, saw St. Louis as a good place to raise their family, and Picucci welcomed the opportunity to return to Division II level, where he had started training at his alma mater, Ferris State.

“At the Division II level, the playing field is more level than in Division I, and the emphasis is more on the student part of the student-athlete,” Picucci said. “These kids have to leave here ready to join the workforce or earn a master’s degree. They must be ready for the next phase. I love being able to help children grow up and prepare for life after college.

Picucci used the year he was on staff, but before he had any runners he had the opportunity to meet coaches from high schools in the area and spread the word about UMSL’s fledgling program while slowly bringing the men’s and women’s teams together.

“Every week I would go to two or three cross country competitions, go out and meet the coaches, watch the kids run and talk to them,” he says. “I’ve emailed every coach in Illinois and Missouri a couple of times over the course of this fall and said, ‘Hey, if you’ve got no one now, keep us in mind for the to come up. “”

Benjamin VandenBrink remembers Picucci being the only varsity coach on hand to spot him when he competed in an indoor track and field competition in Columbia, Missouri, during the winter of his senior year.

“I actually didn’t run very well that day, but he was able to look past that,” said VandenBrink, a graduate of Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience in south St. Louis. “We had a conversation after the race. We talked about what it was going to be like to be on the team. It was encouraging to see someone showing interest.

Long-distance runners Benjamin VandenBrink and Jacob Warner run side by side and in front of a peloton

Cross country runners Benjamin VandenBrink and Jacob Warner race side by side and in front of a field in the season opener in Charleston, Illinois. VandenBrink has missed much of the season with injury, but Warner has led the team throughout the season, including winning all-conference honors with a 16th place finish in the Valley Conference Championship. of the Great Lakes.

VandenBrink visited UMSL and toured the campus and sports facilities, and he decided to join Picucci’s recruiting first class.

The university and its academic programs have been an asset for Picucci in attracting talent. VandenBrink was drawn to the solid reputation of the College of Business Administration. Ede, a graduate of Mascoutah High School in Illinois, is studying exercise science in hopes of becoming a college trainer. Several members of the male and female teams are part of the Pierre Laclede Honorary College, taking advantage of some of its scholarship opportunities and smaller classes.

Runner Kennedy Moore, who grew up near the UMSL campus and graduated from Parkway Central High School, chooses between psychology or another STEM field for her major. Like so many others in the program, she was grateful for the chance to continue her athletic activities.

“I thought it was a great opportunity,” she says. “I liked the idea of ​​starting from the bottom and building something or helping the school build something. I thought it was really great that UMSL created this team.

Runners from cross country teams also compete on the track in the winter and spring, and as programs become established Picucci will look to recruit more sprinters and field athletes to compete in the course. of these seasons.

But for now, the focus remains on running.

Despite the ups and downs of the 2020-21 academic year, the Newts were fortunate enough to acclimate to campus, college courses, and training for the longer college distances. They also got a first glimpse of the competition, which served them well this fall when – supported by a second class of rookies – they completed a full schedule with some notable successes.

Sophomore Jacob Warner, a transfer from Mississippi State, won the HW Wright Classic at Millikin University, placed second in the Border War XC Championship and took top honors in all conferences with a 16th place in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship. Warner helped the men place second in the HW Wright Classic and they finished 11th in the conference championship. On the women’s side, rookie Lily Wagemann showed her bright future with a 16th place finish in the HW Wright Classic and Border War XC Championship, and she led the team to a 12th place finish in the GLVC Championship.

“Each year we want to build on something we did the year before,” Ede says. “Maybe in a few years we’ll bring a conference championship or something crazy to UMSL. It would be really, really good.

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have an idea for an article for UMSL Magazine, send an email to [email protected]

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