Spartan Runners Change Gears

There is an extensive laundry list of things the men’s cross country team at the University of Tampa has never done. The team has failed to capture an SSC Conference Championship in almost 30 years of existence, finishing second to bitter rival Florida Southern almost every year for the past decade.

The men have also never qualified a team to the Division II National Championship, nor have they ever had a runner break the 15 minute mark for the 5,000 meter distance. But then again, “We’ve never had a team like this before,” says assistant coach Dror Vaknin of the 2007 Spartans.

Entering his eighth year as assistant coach at the University of Tampa, Dror Vaknin has helped breathe life into the men’s cross country program that is annually overshadowed by the huge success of the hard-working women’s team. At 39 years old, the former USF standout and current holder of the school’s 10,000 meter record paces the UT men in practices and races, teaching them how to work together to find success.

After another runner-up finish at the SSC Championship Cross Country meet in 2006, coach Vaknin stressed the importance of a strong track season as a springboard for a successful 2007 cross country season.

“Track is absolutely important; it teaches you pace, patience and how to race efficiently,” he said.

Although UT does not officially recognize track ‘ field as a sport, the men’s and women’s cross country teams pound the pavement and put in hard workouts every morning to prepare for a challenging track schedule that feature several meets with Division I teams.

Now, with just one week left in the track ‘ field season, coach Vaknin is convinced that his preaching of teamwork to his runners has paid off. “This is the best team chemistry we’ve ever had,” said Vaknin, “everyone’s working hard for each other, not just for themselves.”

The hard work, whether for the team or the individual, has paid dividends for several of the UT men this track season, including star freshman Tony Nicolosi. After breaking the school record in the 3,000 meters with a time of 9:04, Nicolosi proceeded to set the UT freshman record for the 5,000 and 10,000 meter distances in times of 15:38 and 32:50, respectively. Coach Vaknin feels that Nicolosi’s record-setting seasons will continue as he gets older and stronger.

“By the time he graduates, Tony will have shattered every record the school has,” said Vaknin.

Tony Nicolosi is the leader of a strong freshmen nucleus consisting of Jeremy Lautzenheiser, Chris Catanach and Jacob Bess.

After running together for a year, this young core looks to return stronger and faster as sophomores.

The team captain and leader of the freshman nucleus is rising senior David Forry. After surgery delayed his junior track season, Forry is expected to return to his position as the team’s No. 1 runner for his final cross country season.

“Dave has always provided great leadership for the team,” says Coach Vaknin of his star runner, “but now that Tony [Nicolosi] has made strides to take things to the next level, it will challenge Dave and make him an even better leader.”

With the leadership of Forry and Nicolosi, the 2007 men’s cross country team will try to open new doors to success and cross items off their daunting list of achievements waiting to happen.

After dominating the Florida Southern runners on the track this season, the UT men will enter the new cross country season confident that their efforts on the track can be translated to the cross country course.

Coach Vaknin’s confidence matches that of his runners.

“I am always realistic about our chances, and this year we have a 100 percent chance of winning the conference championship and qualifying for nationals. We just need to put it all together when it counts,” said Vaknin.

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