The adjustment from high school to college sports is always a big one for freshman athletes to overcome. In no sport is this adjustment more important than it is in cross country. Not only are the athletes that these freshman will be running against bigger, stronger and faster than they are used to competing against, they are also used to running a longer distance.

While cross country courses at the college level are anything but a marathon at five miles, most runners fresh out of high school are used to running shorter, three-mile courses. This may pose a problem for USM as they have four freshman who are needed to contribute strong performances for coach Bruce Bickford’s team in order for them to compete again for the Little East Conference (LEC) title.

“Next year will be huge for us, but things are definitely going to have to come together for our freshman in order for us to make any sort of run at Keene State this year” said Bickford. (Keene State has won the last seven LEC championships).

The loss of Greg Dolbec from Newfield, ME, to graduation may prove to be devastating for USM as he, according to Bickford, was “generally about a minute-and-a-half ahead of the rest of our team.” His loss will certainly be felt by USM as he was their number one runner. “Losing Dolbec was a huge deal for us and its going to be very tough to make up his loss.” Also missing from the team this year is North Yarmouth native Clayton Conrad, a junior who is spending a semester in Hawaii.

However great the loss of Dolbec was, returning for USM are their second, third and fourth runners. Filling these spots are Mike Bunker and Emery Bickford, both seniors from Bucksport, ME, and Benton, ME, respectively. Chris Hopkins, a sophomore from North Blackfield, MA, is another top returning runner of whom Bickford counts on to step up and help compensate the loss of Dolbec.

Bickford expects a pair of freshman to step right in and contribute to the team. Twin brothers Curtis and Nicholas Wheeler from Newport, VT should be able to run consistently with their best runners. “They {the Wheeler twins} should be able to adjust quite easily to the longer five-mile courses” said Bickford. Another freshman, Forrest Tobie from Mt. Vernon, ME will, in Bickford’s opinion, also bolster the Huskies push for the top. “He was one of the best milers in the state last year for Maranacook High and I expect him to step right in and contribute as well.”

All of the optimism within the team this year relies on how well Bickford’s freshman will be able to adjust to the longer courses. “We could get back to number two this season” Bickford continued. “I wouldn’t go so far to say it will be a rebuilding season for us, but more of a season for our younger runners to gain experience for next year.”

The Huskies begin their season in Amherst, MA, where they will compete in the Amherst College Invitational meet this Saturday.

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