Franciscan University of Steubenville men’s cross-country team recently won the Presidents Athletic Conference championship on March 20, beating St. Vincent College by two points.
The PAC cross-country championship meet was technically the championship for 2020, since the fall 2020 season for cross-country was canceled due to COVID-19.
This was the first championship win for the PAC in any Franciscan sport, and the cross-country team’s first full year as members of the PAC. In Franciscan history, this is the first PAC championship that the men’s cross-country team has won.
Daniel Kuebler, head coach of both the men’s and women’s cross-country teams, said it was a strange season for the team. The students practiced all fall but just participated in intramural and intra-squad meets because it couldn’t compete against anyone.
“We weren’t expecting that we would actually have a chance to do (a) cross-country season.” said Kuebler. “But when the indoor season got canceled, the coaches thought, well, we could put together a cross-country season. Because it’s outdoors, it would be easier to do. So, we had a short season and then just didn’t know what kind of shape everyone would be in, because we hadn’t been training for this.”
Kuebler said it was great to see the team get excited for the mini season, and that it felt like a real fall season with the many spectators. The PAC has good competition, and the team ran extremely well to win.
Senior business management major Liam Galligan was a big factor in the championship win and will also be back on the team next year with eligibility.
“It was an absolutely crazy race,” said Galligan. “We were leading the first half at two miles at the splits, and then St. Vincent made some moves. We beat St. Vincent by two points, but we were able to close door in the last kilometer with some guys really running out of their minds and chasing some guys down.”
“We were really happy with it, just a fantastic race. We knew it was going to be tough, since St. Vincent had beaten us the past two meets when we didn’t have our full team.”
Galligan said that even with the full team they knew it was going to be a battle, but the men stepped up to the occasion and “closed the door” on the other teams.
“We felt like we were a little bit stronger, a little bit fresher and our team’s stats showed that,” Galligan said.
The PAC let only eight runners run due to COVID-19 precaution, but Franciscan’s team had five runners score. Galligan ran 15:46, placing first; sophomore communications major Miguel Daez ran 16:15, placing fourth; sophomore theology major George Kaftan ran 16:26, placing sixth; senior computer science major Mark Borek ran 16:27, placing seventh; and graduate anthropology major Austen Duggan ran 16:40, placing ninth.
Galligan says that the team winning this championship is going to do something great, and that its success shows the depth and talent of the men on the team.
“It’s going to show prospective student athletes that this is a program to be reckoned with,” said Galligan, “a program to be … included with, regardless (of) what your personal records were in high school.”
“It’s also going to bring us closer together as a group,” said Galligan. “Our next goal is for cross-country at least to qualify for the national championships in fall 2021, so this step solidifies that we’re on the right track. We just need a couple more pieces in order to do that. So, we’re excited to see what happens in the next couple years.”
Galligan said the team is looking beyond the conference success and trying to push the boundary of regional and national level, saying that it’s a change of perspective that can become reality with the group of men currently on the team.
Kuebler gave recognition to the women’s cross-country team, as it made its mark as well. Women’s finished second in its race, well ahead of the third-place team. Both men’s and women’s cross-country teams had individual winners in both races.
“We’re excited to be the first team to do so,” said Galligan, “and this is a call to the rest of the teams to up their game. We can make it the new norm at Franciscan to not just be good at getting into the playoffs but show the PAC what we’re made of.”