Lexington, Ky. – The Transylvania cross country team embarks upon the 2019 season this weekend with a roster steeped in blooming continuity linked with a new coaching staff linking as the Pioneers aim to continue their ascent in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference and eventually beyond.
After a year spent with the Pioneer track and field program as an assistant coach, Matthew Roden has stepped into the head coaching role for both the cross country and track and field programs following the departure of Taylor Throckmorton this summer. Though Roden is moving one significant chair over from his previous position with the Pioneer coaching staff, the coaching veteran is no stranger to building and leading winning teams at multiple levels.
Prior to his time with Transy, Roden was a head coach at Division III Emory & Henry, helping start a brand-new program there. That stint was preceded by a pair of assistant coaching tours with two different Division I track and field programs where plenty of new records were set by Roden's understudies.
Now with new assistant coach Emily Maxwell alongside to help guide the Pioneers along the trails, Roden and the Transylvania cross country team are ready to continue picking up steam. Roden and Maxwell have plenty to work with as the coaching staff inherits a group which is hungry for more success and yields a unique collective spirit.
"We have a really special group of returners that I'm excited about seeing further develop," espouses Roden. "Their leadership across the board is something I have rarely seen at any institution and level. Last season, our team was very young with the majority of the team being freshmen or sophomores. This year, those athletes are returning with an extra year of maturity and experience. We will look to those members to help our newcomers adjust to the collegiate level as we strive to improve our conference standing."
The Pioneers enter the season on both the men's and women's side projected for a seventh-place finish in the HCAC standings according to the 2019 HCAC preseason coaches' polls. In order to meet or exceed those expectations, Roden points to development, accountability, and the contagious leadership he hopes to cultivate among the program as a catalyst for that process.
"Our cross country runners are a very hardworking and dedicated group of athletes," adds Roden. "The leadership from our returnees is a rarity and I think this provides an advantage not only to our incoming athletes but also to our team as a whole. The bonds that are formed will help us push through the high and low points of the season and capitalize upon the good moments."
The Transylvania men furnish key returnees in a quartet of sophomores: Jacob Burnam, Chauncey Longman, Bobby Payne, and Daniel Peter. Burnam paced the Pioneers at last year's HCAC Championships while Longman also made continued strides in his first season as a Pioneer. Each achieved top-10 program times as freshmen.
For the Transylvania women's cross country roster, juniors Josie Cunningham and Ally Priebe bring their emerging experience to the program while sophomores Maddie Bell, Hannah Compton, Bailey Guess, and Cassidy Kelien also help add veteran perspective. "Our group of returners form a tightknit group of leaders that are going to help bring our program to the next level," adds Roden.
Transylvania cross country will embrace a balanced and challenging schedule that Roden envisions will sharpen his program for the stretch run of the season, which hits a notable apex on November 1 with the HCAC Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, and the ensuing Great Lakes Regional Championships two weeks later in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The season leads off on Saturday with the Madison Kiwanis Invitational hosted by HCAC member Hanover College, followed by their first look at the conference championship course on Saturday, September 21 with the John McNichols Invitational in Terre Haute hosted by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Another highlight of the season will be the Louisville Classic in nearby Louisville on Saturday, October 5.
"Focusing on our conference meet as a key part of our schedule goes without saying," voices Roden on the schedule ahead. "I think we have the right pieces in place that will set us up for that journey and it is now about getting there. Outside of the conference meet, the Greater Louisville meet is a great stage that will allow us to see how we stack up against all competition levels. This is a large meet that will show us our mental toughness as we get into the second half of the season and focus on the conference meet."
With the season around the corner, the Pioneers possess a sense of enthusiasm combined with high expectations as they train for a quickly approaching season. Each student-athlete of the Pioneers harbors personal goals and unique challenges as Roden seeks to blend every individual into a next-level cross country team.
"It's always an adjustment for new athletes to start college and be in a new atmosphere and that's where our veterans can help with assisting in that transition," says Roden of a season that starts in tandem with a new school year. "Both newcomers and returnees will also be adjusting to the change in coaching staff, whether that involves a change from high school to college, or the new staff from last year to this year for our returning runners. We have put together a top-notch coaching staff that I'm really excited about going forward."
In a sport which is predicated on timing and intense focus on precise daily improvement, the Pioneers will pursue goals both measurable and cultural, views Roden: "As a coach, I don't want to only focus on performances, but additionally create an environment that my athletes can grow as people and create lifelong memories. Along with that, our ultimate goal is to achieve new personal bests and improve upon our previous year's placing at our conference meet. I'm excited about what this program has created so far and I believe we can accomplish those goals."
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