Cross Country Finds Strength in Numbers

Aug. 28, 2012

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Every morning, before the sun rises, the UCF cross country team can be found on the east side of campus repeating 1,000-meter run after 1,000-meter run. Unlike past seasons, this year's squad is all about the pack and coach Paul Brown couldn't be more pleased.

"What I've noticed is there's a group that pushes itself in practice, and they're all pretty close together," Brown said. "That's something that's really going to help us in cross country, and something we haven't had in a while. They're proving it every day. I've been telling them that's how we want to run."

When Brown first arrived at UCF in 2010, the cross country team lacked in depth, numbers and competitiveness. He said last year was a turning point for the program.

"Last year's class was pivotal in turning the culture around," Brown said. "They were hardworking, very dedicated, had a drive to succeed and came from teams that had a culture of running, which is important on this level. There are certain things that you don't have to say, certain attitudes you don't have to work on training."

With their nine newcomers this year, UCF boasts the largest roster the Knights have fielded since 2006.

As the top incoming recruit, Brown expects Anne-Marie Blaney to make an impact right away. Blaney had a breakout senior year at Belleview in Ocala as the first-place finisher at the FACA senior all-star meet, and Brown said her potential as a runner is untapped.

Brown was also complimentary of Rachel Petrik and local talents Amy Ankli and Heather Classe. Petrik is a three-time state qualifier. Boone's Classe earned a top-10 finish at the state meet her senior year and Hagerty High's Ankli is the school's recorder holder in the 5K.

"The class could not have been any better," Brown said. "I'm excited about this crop, and one of the things I've noticed in practice thus far is they really like each other. They all want to do well. They are dedicated to achieving our goal of being in the top third in our conference, and I think they're going to do it."

The Knights hope to make a big jump in the Conference USA standings by season's end. The best showing UCF has had in its C-USA tenure was sixth place in 2007. Last year, the Knights finished 10th, but Brown is confident in his team's chemistry and leadership.

Shelby Blaes sat out in 2011 due to injury but is back stronger than ever and has adopted a leadership role along with junior Ne'Ausha Logan.

"For Shelby to be back is definitely a big boost," Brown said. "She's excited and motivated and has taken a big leadership role, especially with the newer kids. Ne'Ausha Logan has been a good leader in terms of the middle-distance group."

The Knights kick off their season Sept. 7 in Tampa and will once again host the Black and Gold Invitational this year. UCF has won the event, which will be held Oct. 12, every year dating back to 2008. The meet is a pink event for Breast Cancer Awareness month.

"The team is definitely looking forward to it. We want to defend it and we're going to have a much better meet in terms of talent and turnout. It's going to be exciting," Brown said. "On the women's side we're going to have upwards of 20 teams - Miami, USF, UNF, Jacksonville, FAU, FIU. All these teams are bringing their top squads, so that's what makes it competitive. We're excited to host it, especially for the cause. Breast cancer awareness, contributing to that with our race and our entry fees, it will be an exciting time."