Cross Country Season Outlook
MALIBU, Calif. - The 30 brothers and sisters that comprise the Pepperdine cross country teams are ready to start their season Tuesday, Sept. 1, following close to three weeks of intense training under fourth-year head coach Robert Radnoti. The Waves' first competition, the Malibu Oceanside Open, takes place on campus at Alumni Park at 6:30 p.m. with a women's dual race vs. Cal State Bakersfield followed by a men's competition vs. an Alumni Team.
Even though there are only two blood relatives between the squads - brothers Conrad and Jordan Wozniak (Irvine, Calif./Woodbridge HS), Radnoti detects a true brother and sisterhood between all his student-athletes, which includes 12 men, 18 women and two former competitors turned assistants in Cole Feldman and Chris Ogle.
Feldman, a second-year law student and one of the veteran leaders of last year's team, has strengthened the brotherhood by engaging the men's roster in a number of team-building activities such as kickball, whiffleball and watching a number of movies including Prefontaine. The men also have made trips to Magic Mountain, Malibu Yogurt and, of course, the beach. Meanwhile the ladies' team has already gone camping up the coast in San Luis Obispo.
While there's been a lot of fun and games prior to the start of classes, Radnoti is convinced they're just as serious about their academic and athletic endeavors as they are about socializing.
"They're all great kids and the highest quality of student-athletes," he said. "They are motivated to do well athletically and academically while making sure to integrate several newcomers, and so far it's gone quite well. The leadership groups have been very creative in developing team-building activities and I'm seeing them grow and mature as individuals as a result."
The teams are currently nearing the end of their hill-training phase and grueling two-a-day practice sessions. The preseason schedule has included daily morning runs that begin around 6 a.m. in addition to an afternoon jaunt that is preceded by either water workouts or a Pilates class.
According to Radnoti, the Waves are certainly getting in their maximum mileage for the week.
"The West Coast Conference Championship is the only race that matters so we're focused on training that allows us to produce peak performances at the end of year," he said. "We also want to improve our times on two of the courses we ran at last year - Irvine and Santa Clara - and further develop the team's mental outlook.
"My goal each year is to continue building on our culture of improvement while initiating projects that are consistent with Pepperdine's mission of service and leadership."
The women's team is led by two All-WCC preseason team selections, junior Chelsea Wishard (Lawai, Hawai'i/Kauai HS) and sophomore Lauren Lodge (Hopkinton, Mass./Hopkinton HS), who regularly finished one-two for the Waves through 10 competitions last season.
Wishard led the Waves to the finish line at every race and finished third overall at the conference championship in Belmont, Calif., (22:07) which was Pepperdine's highest individual finish since Rebecca Freebury won the WCC title in 1999. Lodge, the runner-up to Wishard on six occasions, stepped it up a notch during the outdoor track season and set varsity records in the 1500 (4:39.68), 3K (10:05.44), steeplechase (9:45.37) and distance medley relay (12:49.93).
"I'm thrilled to boast about both Chelsea and Lauren," Radnoti said. "I thought it was great they were named to the All-WCC preseason team - and rightfully so. Chelsea is a grinder. She knows how to come from behind while running at an even pace, but somehow ends up near the front of the pack by the very end.
"Lolo has more of a 'go get 'em' approach where she just sticks with the leaders for as long as she can. She really blossomed during the track season with her great speed and I expect she'll improve by leaps and bounds."
Behind Lodge and Wishard, Elizabeth Coe (Fountain Valley, Calif./Fountain Valley HS) has been tagged as the team's No. 3 runner, while a talented group of sophomores including Hannah DeWalt (Gig Harbor, Wash./Gig Harbor HS), Aneasha Lawrence (Sun Valley, Calif./Village Christian HS), Paige Mobley (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley HS), Ana Prim (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif./Torrey Pines HS) and Courtney Rolando (Longmont, Colo./Silver Creek HS) should all be vying for the No. 4 to 7 spots along with three choice newcomers in freshman Megan Doeding (La Crescenta, Calif./Crescenta Valley HS), sophomore Danielle Varela (Hesperia, Calif./Sultana HS) and junior Katherine Schmidt (Auburn, Calif./Saint Francis HS).
Coe regularly finished in the No. 3 through No. 5 range for the Waves last season, topping out at the WCC Championships with a 6K time of 23:39. She also finished fourth for Pepperdine at the NCAA West Regional - another 6K course - in 22:28. Coe had an outstanding high school career but Radnoti said he needs to tweak her collegiate training in order to get her up there with Chelsea and Lauren.
Radnoti is welcoming seven newcomers to the women's side with Doeding, Varela and Schmidt serving as three of the biggest surprises during preseason training.
Schmidt is an elite A-circuit competitor when it comes to equestrian and horsemanship but is brand new to competitive running. Her inexperience, however, has not kept her at the back of the pack.
"Katherine was right up there with Lolo (Lodge) on the very first day of practice," Radnoti said. "She is a true newbie to this sport with no running background but just loves to run. After asking me to part of the team, I agreed and gave her the summer workouts which she followed exactly."
Doeding also has been keeping up with Lodge during the hill workouts.
Varela is three years removed from her high school days at Sultana where she won the 2002 CIF Individual Southern Section Championship at Mt. SAC with a time of 17:40 and guided the school to a pair of state titles in 2002 and 2003. Her school also finished with a No. 3 national ranking in 2002.
"Danielle spent the last few years at Concordia University so I need to help her get back in the right shape and condition like she was at Sultana," Radnoti said. "She has good upside and liked what the school had to offer on an official visit."
Like Varela, both Prim and Mobley come from strong high school backgrounds but are working to find the one extra piece that can push them over the top and into the elite group. Mobley rattled off a number of top-five Pepperdine showings last year as a freshman, including fifth at WCCs, but Radnoti needs her to develop some more speed. Prim is running strong in preseason and has the potential to be one of the Waves' top seven competitors if she can stay healthy.
As for DeWalt, one of the team's captains and spiritual leaders, Radnoti said she has the speed and the heart but has to work on her endurance, which he believes should propel her right up to the top three spots.
Lawrence and Rolando have both been training very hard this summer and have come back much improved due to their offseason regimens. Lawrence ran a ton of races in the 800 during the track season while Rolando tackled the high-altitude treks of her native of Colorado. Radnoti is counting on both of these young ladies to be key contributors.
Pepperdine's men's team returns its top three returning finishers from the 2008 WCCs in juniors Seth Allison (Canyon, Texas/Canyon HS), Conrad Wozniak and Henri Floris (Chino Hills, Calif./Ayala HS), and with two greatly improved sophomores in Jordan Wozniak and Kenny Smith (Willits, Calif./Willits HS) returning to the fold, the Waves could easily produce a stronger campaign in 2009.
Jordan Wozniak's improvement started at the end of the end of last year's cross country season and continued through the track and field season where he displayed great speed in the 800-meter run that Radnoti said no one anticipated.
"Even though he was a distance runner in high school, he really thrived in the move down to the 800, growing more confidence," he said. "Our goal this year for him is to work on his endurance, but over the summer, he kept up with (older brother) Conrad and the rest of the top group. He's now breaking out of his big brother's shadow and has a bit more speed."
Smith was Pepperdine's best all-around freshman runner in 2008, finishing among the top-five Wave runners at four competitions. His best 8K time of the year was a 26:16 posted at the Bronco Invitational at Santa Clara, which was the second to last competition of the year.
During the 2009 track season, Smith competed in the steeplechase and ended up posting the season's best time of 9:45.37 at the Johnson/Joyner Kersee Invitational.
"I think his competing in the steeplechase has allowed him to make a smooth transition into this summer's cross country training," Radnoti said. "Kenny's come back in great shape. He's taller and stronger and we expect him to blossom as a sophomore."
Guys like Allison, Conrad Wozniak, Floris along with Eric Magana (Whittier, Calif./La Serna HS) and Garrett Reim (Fircrest, Wash./Curtis HS) all came in with Radnoti three seasons ago and he's excited to see them become stronger leaders as they approach their junior or senior years.
Reim, a transfer from a few seasons ago from Willamette University, is the team's lone senior who is as intelligent and studious about his running as he is for his academics. Radnoti notes Reim's blessed with great speed and is developing a custom program that will make sure the senior produces stronger showings in an 8 or 10K race.
Conrad Wozniak entered last season as the favorite to lead the men's team but was forced to deal with some illness and nagging injuries. As a result, he appeared in just half of the 10 competitions, but fared well for the team at the WCC and NCAA West Regional Championships.
"Conrad's very proactive and good about taking care of his body," Radnoti said. "Young runners need to listen to their bodies and share whatever is going on with their coach, who can then develop a customized program to reach their best at WCCs."
Allison, the Wave's No. 1 finisher at WCCs, has his attention spread in three directions - student, athlete and entertainer. The junior was healthy all of last season between the cross country and track seasons and led Pepperdine to the finish line on two occasions, and five times was its No. 2 competitor. And when he wasn't competing in a Waves' uniform, Allison could be found at children parties dressed either as Nemo, G.I. Joe or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
"Seth is our future actor and star in the making," Radnoti said. "He's very active as an entertainer whether it's doing walk-on roles for Entourage or Desperate Housewives, writing plays, directing movies or developing clips for YouTube. Being an actor is his focus, but he had a good summer of running out here in California and has a good mileage base. He really has a driven personality and that's what I like to see in all our athletes. He's active, involved, and creative and pursues life at its fullest."
Radnoti has brought in three freshmen - Wesley Blundell (Brush Prairie, Wash./Prairie HS), Sean King (Potomac, Md./Winston Churchill HS) and Jonathan Rahaeuser (Irvine, Calif./Calvary Chapel HS) - and has been impressed by what he's seen so far from them in training camp.
"All three are dedicated to running and there have been no complaints," he said. "They all go about their tasks in a workmanlike fashion and are all good academically."
Blundell is a 4.0 student from Washington and a dedicated runner. He's taking a load of AP courses in his first year at Pepperdine and is planning to graduate in three years, which Radnoti believes he will do.
King ran the mile and half mile in high school and has really pushed himself hard to make cross country his focus.
"It's been a major challenge for him to push his body to become a cross country runner, but I know he'll be great for us during the track season," Radnoti said.
Radnoti expects Rahaeuser to have a smooth transition from Calvary Chapel High School to Pepperdine in terms of academics and atmosphere, but is still getting adjusted to being part of the brotherhood.
"Jon did lots on his own with his previous programs and teams, so he's feeling good to be on this team and part of the brotherhood," Radnoti said. "I'm excited to see how far his talents can go."