Despite outside distractions, head coach Vince DeGrado is dead set on keeping the pedigree of his cross country program intact heading into the 2018 season.
The men are coming off of six straight conference championships and three straight Region VI titles. The women finished second in the conference and third in the region last year. Both return a lot and have big expectations for the upcoming season.
But outside of the running trail things have been fraught. DeGrado is saddled with a two-year suspension from the NJCAA after an altercation at last years Indoor National Track and Field Championships.
The suspension keeps him from attending any other cross country or track meet thats affiliated with the NJCAA. If Allen County and another NJCAA team are there, hes not allowed on the premises.
Currently, DeGrado and the school are trying to fight the suspension and hope to have things worked out before the Red Devils get into the meat of the season.
The school is still going through the appeals process and doing their due diligence and investigating, DeGrado said. Our goal is to have this figured out by mid-September. Thats the first meet of the year that I wouldnt be able to attend as of right now.
Meanwhile, all that DeGrado can do is focus on what could be one of his better teams heading into the season.
As mentioned early, the men come in with conference title after conference title after Region VI title. Their aspirations are set for something bigger.
With the people we return and the recruits that we have coming in, were more deep and talented than we were last year, DeGrado said. We had the potential to finish top three last year but we let one get away from us. If we can develop like we should, we should be a better team and well be competing for a national title.
Part of that confidence comes from the talent they have returning. Multiple big pieces from last years cross country season and the 2018 track season should spur the Red Devils toward big things.
We return four of our top seven from last year, DeGrado said. In addition to that, Josh Doria ran track last year but hell be a freshman in cross country and hes one of our top runners. Add in Josh Clethan and Yoel Yoel who were both top five for us last year and were looking pretty good.
The Red Devils also add in some talented newcomers and DeGrado thinks that his squad has the makings of a podium team.
Mitchell Dervin was the top mile runner out of Kansas last year out of Mill Valley High School and he came to us, DeGrado said. Hes already shown that he has the fitness and Im expecting him to do big things.
As always with DeGrados teams, its the depth that helps them stand apart from other squads across the country and moves them into national contention.
As a team, I feel like we have seven or eight guys who are going to be able to be in our top five, DeGrado said. Thats how were going to be in contention for a national championship.
The Allen County women have their sights set equally high. After ho-hum finishes in the conference and Region Vi meets, the Lady Devils took themselves to new heights, finishing fifth overall after going into the national meet ranked ninth.
Were more sophomore-heavy which is fine, DeGrado said. Because of that, we return six of our top eight and five of our top seven. In addition to that, we have a great little freshmen class. This team has the potential to develop into a top-three team.
Amber Gloria proved herself to be the clear number one heading into this year after the graduation of Abby Steinhauser.
She will need to continue to kick her running game up throughout the year if the Lady Devils want to make an attempt at a special season.
With the way that she has stepped up, shes moved into that top spot, DeGrado said. And she has some talented freshmen behind her.
The Red Devils will be chasing Cowley, the team that finished first in the Region and the conference last season. While DeGrado thinks it might be difficult, he believes that his group of girls has what it takes to be a step above by the year of the year.
Cowley is going to be just as tough, DeGrado said. They know that were going to be gunning for them like our men know that people are going to be gunning for us. My goal on the womens side is that they continue to improve and focus on the races ahead of us. Where were at now is not where were going to be by the end of the season.
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