A right amount of accolades greet the 2018 Manchester University men's and women's cross country teams coming into the preseason.
However, head coach Geoff Lambert figures it's all a moot point if they all don't understand one thing. Put just; it's the message.
"It's always the same," he admitted. "Success is not inherited. You have to work hard consistently. [Both teams] did that in the spring, but we each need to see if that continued during the summer. If the right choices weren't made then, it doesn't mean much."
"We're all excited about [the beginning of a new year]," he added. "It can be kind of stressful getting everything set up for the summer and the first years here for orientation, but it is always busy ending track and essentially starting cross country at the same time. From there, it's just a few weeks of a reset for coaches and student-athletes before we're all back together [which is why the summer work is vital]."
Even with a men's line-up that is intact from a 2017 in which they made massive strides from the start of the year, and a women's squad that features three all-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference honorees and one United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association all-Great Lakes Region designee, Lambert and his staff have hit the reset button, just as in any other season.
"[Each year] is different," he reflected. "We're back to building a new pair of teams with some new elements towards strong, hopeful chemistry. The goals are always the same, what changes are the people who have to go out there and execute. It's all about if each put in the work necessary and is ready to come to campus and come together to reach the goals we've set forth."
Critical names for the men's program that was among the league top five and region's first 25 include junior Daniel Baker (Okemos, Mich.) who enters as a two-year captain along with fellow junior Cameron Kimmell (Michigantown, Ind.) and sophomore Lucas Fontanez (Lowell, Ind.) who join Baker for a tri-captain leadership model. Kimmell has shown signs of positivity, as he was in the first 30 of his initial collegiate competition in 2016, while Fontanez rolled out top 30s at the Indiana Little State and the conference championships.
"This group is hungry," Lambert pointed out. "It's been nice to see them make progressions at virtually every turn, especially in the spring. I am excited to see how the spring translated to work over the summer and if they were able to hold each other accountable to the standards that were set forth earlier in the year."
Manchester University's women's team was edged for another league title by just four points on its home course last fall, adding to a resume that included being in the top 20 at regionals and among the best ten at the Indiana Little State event. They feature tri-captains, too, in the form of senior Samina Qureshi (Columbia City, Ind.) and juniors Emily Ewen (Walcott, Ind.) and Hannah Wappes (Columbia City, Ind.). Qureshi, a two-time captain, was all-HCAC, placing fifth; Ewen has been all-conference twice with back-to-back top 10 marks; and Wappes is also two-time all-HCAC, placing third as a freshman and runner-up as a sophomore. She also has all-region accolades on her resume, placing 26th a year ago.
"There is some great leadership there with the experience [the women's program] has back," Lambert indicated. "I hope they were able to hold each other accountable this summer and are ready to work towards what they want to accomplish this fall."
"Last year it took us a little while to figure out an identity as a team. We had some people in leadership roles that they weren't used to, and it was a growing process," he added. "I was happy with how the team developed over the fall last year however it just took a little more time than normal. [It's a process for a] team finding an identity. I'm excited about the leadership we have in place for the fall, and I think they have figured out the standard they need to hold people to accomplish what they are capable of."
The head coach's biggest intangible, going into the new year, is reaching an expected level of understanding and doing so with pace.
"It's stressful getting the teams here, working through the first week and finding out who we are," he admitted. "There's a core set of values and standards each team has to work towards. The longer it takes for people to figure that out [the more stressful] the season is. While you want it to happen fast, it's something you can't rush."