RACE TO THE PODIUM: Red Devil men reload while women rebuild



August 29, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Expectations continue to be high at perennial national contender Allen County as the 2017 cross country season starts to ramp up.
Why shouldn’t they be?
Vince DeGrado, now going into his sixth season as the Red Devils head coach, has brought an unprecedented level of success to the program in his time here.
The men are coming off finishing the season being ranked fourth in the country, winning their fifth straight conference title and defending their regional title. The women won their second consecutive conference title while just missing out on a regional title. They finished the season ranked 7th.
Now the 2017 season starts with both the men’s and women’s teams in very different places.
For the men, they lose their top two runners from last season but return everyone else to a team that is poised to be in the thick of it in the hunt for a national championship.
“We have a chance to take a step towards the podium,” DeGrado said. “We’re deep. The men’s team is deep. Since I’ve been at Allen this is the deepest and most talented team I’ve ever had.”
Led by sophomores Paul Becker, Ludreche Bouanga and Anthony Glasgow, the Red Devils hope that their wealth of talent and experience pays dividends down the stretch.
“I feel like this year we’re going to be better than last year because we have our entire back end returning,” Bouanga said. “They’ll be working hard not to lose their spot to the freshmen. The competition between us will get us to the podium.”
And that finish is not only the goal for this team but the expectation.
“I think anything other than top three and I’d be disappointed,” DeGrado said. “It’s my job to convince them that they’re not as good as they think they are and that we can be better.”
On the women’s side it gets slightly more complicated.
After a year where veteran talent made up the bulk of the roster for the Lady Devils, only two runners return from last year’s top seven to battle it out amongst a group of extremely talented freshmen.
“I think this women’s team might be my best team ever,” DeGrado said. “We’re just so young and inexperienced with our training and that has me nervous and excited at the same time. It will be us and Cowley competing for the regional championship.”
Sophomores Abby Steinhauser and Maria Puente will look to lead a squad with a lot of upside. In the season opener last Friday, freshman Amber Gloria was the top runner for the Lady Devils beating out both of the returners.
While one tournament result doesn’t equal instant stardom for Gloria, the increased level of competition for the new and returning Allen County runner is a sign of only good things to come.
“Abby’s our top returner who was our number two and three runner last year so Amber coming in and beating her in that first meet is great because it’s only going to motivate Abby to get faster and hopefully it motivates the others to keep chasing Abby.”
And even with the experience tilting the scale towards the men this season, DeGrado doesn’t have to look too far back to remind himself that anything can happen.
“Sometimes having no expectations I’ve found that we’ve done better,” DeGrado said. “Last year the women’s team were super experienced and supposed to do better than the men’s team but the men, who were very young, were able to grow throughout the year and finish better than the women finished.”

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