Written by Chris Pendleton
BUENA VISTA, Va.—The Southern Virginia University men's cross country team opens the 2012 season with a lot of new faces.
Seven of the Knights' ten runners from 2011 took leave from school in order to serve two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, leaving this year's team with only two returners from a season ago when Southern Virginia placed sixth at the 2011 USCAA National Championship.
"This is definitely a transition year for our men's team," said second-year Head Coach Logan Davis. "But we could not be more thrilled that so many of our scholar-athletes made the choice to serve missions. It's a decision that we completely encourage and support."
Southern Virginia also welcomes back a member of its 2008 team in sophomore Patrick Gonzalez (Riverside, Calif.), who recently returned home after completing a two-year mission in Argentina.
Gonzalez is one of four returned missionaries on Southern Virginia's six-man roster along with Babble, Mundell and newcomer sophomore Dan Fotheringham (Salt Lake City, Utah).
"Mission service definitely makes recruiting at Southern Virginia different from most universities, but it can also help us in the long run," explained Davis. "Patrick [Gonzalez] was a solid runner back in 2008, but he's actually stronger now after his mission and will likely be our top finisher on the men's side."
Davis further explained that Gonzalez will not only add speed to his team, but also leadership serving as captain along with Mundell, who was last year's team captain.
"We'll look to Patrick and Casey for a lot of leadership and maturity this year," Davis said. "We couldn't ask for better role models for our younger runners."
Southern Virginia's two youngest additions are first-years Benjamin Houldridge (North Bend, Wash.) and Spencer Long (Plano, Texas), who according to Davis both have the chance to develop into solid performers this season.
"Both Ben [Houldridge] and Spencer [Long] have a ton of potential," said Davis. "Ben has already been one of our top guys this fall and Spencer has great size and strength, which will allow him to improve as he gains more experience."
Davis explained that his team's combination of youth and maturity will make for an exciting men's cross country season.
"We're very optimistic about our men's team," said Davis. "With experienced returners and promising recruits, we have a chance to be just as good as last year if not better."