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2019 Fall Sports Preview: Depth Defines Cross Country Cats

By Joe Ginley '12 , 08/23/19, 10:00AM EDT


Steve Zucca will be a key piece for the Wildcats this season.

Much like the Wildcats' other three fall sports teams, depth will be a defining characteristic of the Saint Ignatius cross country program this season.

Under the leadership of head coach Dr. Mike Gallagher '71, the Wildcats have a deep program with loads of talent. 

The Cross Country Cats are poised for an action-packed season, following up a sixth-place finish at the State Meet in 2018. 

A sense of excitement surrounds the program this year. The varsity squad has a solid group of seniors with good leadership. Talented juniors and sophomores abound on the roster, along with a herd of freshmen who form the future of the program.

Starting with the captains, Andrew Eicher, Steve Zucca, and Jack Mayer will lead the way as the team's leaders.

Zucca excelled last year in both cross country and track & field, most recently earning All-State honors in the 2-mile in June at the state track meet. Eicher is a "superb athlete" as Doc Gallagher describes him. Mayer has earned captain status after two strong, letter-winning seasons.

Besides Zucca, Eicher, and Mayer, the other talented seniors on the squad are John Jusko, Robby Klanac, Ryan Marshall, Jack Mayer, Nick Mulhern, John Pawlikowski, and Elliot Rodstrom. Eicher, Klanac, Mayer, Mulhern, Rodstrom, and Zucca are all 3-year letter winners, while Pawlikowski joined the team last season. These men will be expected to teach the team's younger guys and serve as role models. 

Starting with standout Aidan Monroe, the junior class will be led by Pete Fitzpatrick, Luke Chesney, Joe Maloney, and Conor McAndrew. All will figure into the varsity seven at some point. Other juniors include  Conor Geary, Brendan Gilbride, Thomas Kilbane, Blake Kneisly, John McCarthy, Steven Poulopoulos, Aidan Smith, and Sean Ward. 

The Wildcats also have up-and-coming sophomores who will figure into the mix at the varsity level. Sean and Danny Becker, Matt Kelly, Will Leahy, Alex Paliga, Sean Uhran, and transfer Will Kilbane all have the skills to see significant time on the top team. 

The freshmen class is also jam-packed with talent. A whopping 28 frosh populate the program this season. A few members of this group will work their way onto varsity by the end of the season. 

"Essentially, we've got a ton of depth," said Doc Gallagher. "Depth allows us to keep the top guys motivated. In other words, after the top seven guys, we have another 15 guys who are waiting to move into that role, so nobody has a chance to back off, slow down, miss a workout, or not perform in the race."

From the start, the Wildcats will need to be ready to race.

The journey begins with a trip down I-77 for the GlenOak Invitational on Saturday, August 24. The Wildcats finished second last year amongst strong competition.  

"It's always good to show that we're ready to race at the first meet, which is at GlenOak. We get some of the teams from Summit, Portage, and Stark County," Gallagher said. "Right off the bat, we see the competition out there. That's typically an eye-opener for all of the teams that show up. We know what they're going to look like."

The second week of the season offers an easier car ride – a quick trip out east for the Mentor Invitational. The Cardinals always have a strong team, and many Eastside powers will be in attendance. 

The fun really begins on Saturday, September 7 at the Tiffin Carnival Race at Hedges Boyer Park. 

"Our first big race is the Tiffin Carnival, which is the largest meet in the state. We see Cincinnati, Indiana, Toledo, and Columbus teams," Gallagher said. "That's the bellringer for where we stand in the state rankings."

A week later, the Wildcats will race in the VASJ Forest Hills McDonough Invitational at Forest Hills Park. The course offers a very steep incline, challenging racers' endurance and stamina. The Wildcats typically do well at this race, as the team trains on hills all the time. Last year, the Wildcats swept the race, winning at all levels. 

On September 21, the Wildcats stay close to home for the Strongsville Invitational. That's a big race, as plenty of top-notch teams trek to Strongsville. 

The team's last major race of the season is the Meet of Champions, hosted by Hilliard Davidson in Columbus. 

"Cincinnati, Indiana, and Columbus teams come to race at that one," Doc explained. "Saint Ignatius typically always does well on that course, for whatever reason, they get pumped. We really look forward to that one. That gives us a good idea of the varsity going into the final weeks of the season."

As per usual, the postseason follows with the District Meet at Medina on October 19, the Regional Meet at Boardman on October 26, and the State Meet at National Trailway Raceway Course on November 2.

All in all, the season offers plenty of action for the Wildcats.  

With the depth of the squad, the 2019 campaign could be a very successful one for the men of Doc Gallagher.