NewsCross Country Returns to MVNU after 27-Year Absence
written by Nate Hackenbracht, Mount Vernon News sports writer
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s athletic program will race back to the future on Friday, when the Cougars run a cross country team for the first time since 1979.
Cross country represented one of the school’s core athletic endeavors during Mount Vernon Nazarene College’s inaugural year in 1969, and lasted for 11 seasons. Twenty-seven years later, the sport returns to the campus with men’s and women’s varsity squads and represents an important step forward in the university’s continuous athletic development.
"We try to evaluate things from time to time and look to expand our sports if we can,” said MVNU athletics director Scott Flemming. "We also do a lot of surveys with our students and prospective students. Cross country is a sport that came up quite often over the years.
"It’s a little bit easier than other sports to get started with budgeting and facilities, and it also is a sport where we can bring in both men’s and women’s teams. ... It seemed like the right sport at the right time to bring in, and I think we are off to a good start already.”
Chip Wilson, a 2004 MVNU graduate and former point guard on the Cougars’ basketball team, is leading the school’s cross country rejuvenation as the program’s head coach. Wilson is also a middle school history teacher at Highland and has coached the Scots’ cross country team the past two years.
"I knew Chip really well from coaching him in basketball and I know how hard of a worker he is,” Flemming said. "He ran cross country in high school and already has two years of coaching experience in for cross country at Highland. Chip came to my mind right away when thinking about potential coaches, and I believe he will do a great job with the program.”
Wilson recently worked out the Cougar runners at a team camp at Hocking Hills and has been preparing the group throughout the summer for its first meet, Friday at Shawnee State University.
"It’s very exciting,” said Wilson. "It’s something that I think is long overdue. I think we have a great group of guys and girls. I’m very excited to help get Mount Vernon Nazarene cross country back in competition.”
The Cougars’ men’s team will debut with nine runners: Juniors Ron Hook (Howard) and Matt Young; sophomores Tim Grubb, Joe Pittenger, and Brandon Steffeee; and freshmen Chris Au, Mark Porostosky, Zach Tuggle (Butler), and Dustin Wine. The women’s team consists of seniors Brittany Dissinger, Lauren Hall, Jillian Headley, Sarah Parks (Mount Vernon), Amanda Watkins (Mount Vernon) and Beth Wilson; junior Melissa Walker; and sophomore Mallory Newland.
"The guys are pretty young and I think there is a lot we can build with already,” Wilson said. "I feel very fortunate to have the girls we do have and I am looking forward to see how they will do this season. With six seniors, though, we will have to work hard to recruit for next year.”
MVNU will not host any meets in its first season back on the college cross country map. The Cougars’ regular season schedule also includes invitationals at Cedarville University (Sept. 16), Otterbein College (Sept. 23), Ohio Wesleyan University (Oct. 6) and Wilmington College (Oct. 13).
"I hope to get some home meets in the near future, but we are just trying to get our feet wet as a new program this season,” said Wilson. "It will be nice to see how the meets are run and to observe and learn some key ways of doing things from different schools. Hopefully, we will be able to follow that lead and have some invitationals in the future in Mount Vernon.”
With cross country officially back at MVNU, implementing a spring track program in the future could be a natural fit. However, Flemming noted only time will tell whether or not additional sports will be amended to the MVNU athletic lineup.
"We’ll take a look at adding any more sports one year at a time,” Flemming said. "I think it is a possibility. Cross country was the right sport for now to go with, and we will continue to evaluate things in the future and move in the right direction for what is best for us down the road.”