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River Hawks in the running at NCAA's

Umass Lowell's track team are gathered together, posing on Umass Lowell's Trackfield.

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

LOWELL It's been 11 years since the UMass Lowell men's cross country program won the national championship. Entering the 2002 NCAA Championships on Saturday, coach George Davis says this is his best team since then.

UML left for Ashland, Ohio, today to prepare for Saturday's NCAA Championship race at Brookside Golf Course, the River Hawks' third NCAA appearance in as many years.

"We expect to run very well," said Davis, in his 33rd and final season. "Our goal is to finish among the top four. This group has done all of the little things that need to be done to make themselves injury-free and mentally tough. We have a great work ethic. The seniors have provided great leadership and the new athletes have come in and maintained the same kind of work ethic."

Davis retired in June, but opted to remain as the head cross country coach and an assistant track & field coach on a part-time basis for the 2002-03 season while first-year coach Gary Gardner makes the transition.

Bentley, which finished second at the NCAA Northeast Region Championship to Lowell, is also representing the region Saturday.

The River Hawks have realized the goals Davis has set the past two years. At the 2000 championship in Pomona, Cal., Davis projected UML would finish among the top 20. The River Hawks placed 17th. Last season, a top-10 finish was expected in Slippery Rock, Pa. UML finished 10th.

The River Hawks entered the season ranked No. 10 by the NCAA Division II Cross Country Coaches Association Poll, but have since ascended to No. 6.

UML is a veteran group consisting of four seniors, a junior, one sophomore and one freshman, all of who were named All-New England.

Leading the way has been senior Carl Mease (Schaghticoke, N.Y.), who finished 38th overall and earned All-American honors at last year's championship. He's a two-time New England Runner of the Year.

Behind Mease has been the senior duo of Jonathan Murphy (Worcester) and Kevin Alliette (Methuen), who placed second and third, respectively, at the New England Championships. Junior Nate Jenkins (Templeton) and senior Brian Lankiewicz (Whitman) have also had stellar seasons.

Freshman Patrick Morasse (Lowell) and sophomore Dan Sawicki (Pelham, N.H.) have established themselves as future leaders for the UML program. Both have been regulars among the UML top-5 as Morasse took fourth at the New Englands while Sawicki finished seventh.

UML stormed to the Northeast-10 Conference title and dominated the New England meet.