By Nichole Boehnke
Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State men's cross country team's season opener is on Saturday, Sept. 7, at home as the Bulldogs host the annual Ray Helsing Bulldog Invitational at Katke Golf Course.
Under the leadership of head coach Steve Picucci, the men's program attained a major goal last season by reaching the NCAA Division II National Championships.
Picucci is entering his sixth year coaching the men's and women's cross country/track and field programs. He has only had to make slight adjustments to prepare the team for potential postseason competition due to the fact that this year's regional course will be the same as last year.
"Our main focus is the GLIAC and the Midwest Region Championships along with qualifying for the NCAA Championships," Picucci said. "Another main goal is to have the same or higher team GPA overall as last season."
The team is leaning on seniors Alex Bladecki from Bay City, Mich., Andrew Campbell from Brownstown, Mich., Brandon Cushman from Saginaw, Mich., David Silversmith from Mount Pleasant, Mich., Tyler Weedon from Niles, Mich., and Connor LaRowe from Howell, Mich., for leadership as well as race performances.
"I feel really good about the upcoming season. Most of our top guys are returning and we have a lot of young guys stepping up," LaRowe said.
There are 18 runners on the team, including five freshmen additions. Picucci said during preseason there were some minor injuries, but the men are bouncing back and getting things rolling.
The men's team will be competing against Grand Valley State, Malone, Cedarville, Southern Indiana, Ashland and Wayne State as potentially some of the top schools in the region for a national qualifying spot.
Last season, Ferris finished third behind Ashland and GVSU in the regional championships along with 13th at the NCAA Championships. The team ended with a cumulative 370 points and an average time of 31:16.9 for the 10,000-meter run.
"We're doing the little things that we need to do in order to stay competitive with the other top teams in the nation," LaRowe said.
The GLIAC Championships will be held October 26 in Houghton, Mich., and the Midwest Regional Championships are November 9 in Kenosha, Wis.