Everything Eagles: rankings show much-deserved respect to cross country

Biola’s men’s and women’s cross country teams earned top spots in their respective PacWest preseason coaches’ polls.

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Everything Eagles: rankings show much-deserved respect to cross country

Courtesy of Biola Athletics

Courtesy of Biola Athletics

Courtesy of Biola Athletics

Austin Green, Managing Editor

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Editor’s Note: This semester marks the beginning of my fifth at Biola, and also my fifth covering sports for the Chimes in some capacity. I have spent the past two years getting to know the incredible people in and around the Athletics department, from Dr. Miller herself to the undergrad sports information workers who help game days on campus run smoothly.

Now as managing editor, I get a chance to step back from day-to-day coverage and get to share more of my perspective on what is shaping up to be a very exciting year for the Eagles. I will also be able to tell unique stories about the great individuals that make up Biola Athletics, from the coaches to the athletes to the staff. So with that said, welcome to the first edition of Everything Eagles. This column will normally run in print every other Thursday and be posted online soon after.

Like I said above, the opinions shared in this space are mine alone—not that of the Chimes, the school, the athletic department, nor anyone else. I do not expect everyone who reads them to agree. Feel free to voice your disagreement, just make sure it is directed at the right person: me.

When Biola first made the jump to the NCAA and the PacWest conference last year, their new opponents had no idea what to expect. No Biola sport was ranked higher than fourth in any preseason PacWest coaches’ poll, and many were in the bottom half of the rankings.

I get why the Eagles were constantly ranked low. No school is about to quake in fear at a new addition to their conference from a non-NCAA level unless they are given a reason to. Respect had to be earned—and the Eagles more than earned it.

Seven out of the nine Biola teams who received preseason polls from the PacWest last year finished higher than their initial rankings, with several of them placing near the top of their respective conference standings.

The Eagles showed they belong here, and if the fall 2018 preseason polls are any indication, the rest of the PacWest seems to agree.

CROSS COUNTRY PICKED FIRST

Take the men’s and women’s cross country squads, for instance. They were both on the higher side of the rankings in 2017, each placing fourth. Head coach Sean Henning’s teams then enjoyed strong seasons that culminated in third place finishes at the PacWest championships.

With several runners who powered those results set to return, and defending PacWest champion California Baptist University leaving for Division I, both men’s and women’s cross country became the first Biola teams ever to receive preseason No. 1 rankings since joining the PacWest.

The honor is further proof that not only Eagles cross country but Biola Athletics as a whole is no longer seen as the fresh-faced newcomer in the PacWest. It only affirms the team’s belief that they can contend for a conference title as soon as this year.

“Second year in the conference, we wanna win it,” said junior Gabe Plendcio, one of the Eagles’ top finishers in the 2017 PacWest championships. He was pleasantly surprised at the rankings and said they gave him a little confidence. His coach echoed a similar sentiment.

“It’s… cool to see that these other Division II schools recognize that we are at their level and able to compete for a conference championship,” Henning said.

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

Henning points out, however, that there are several drawbacks to such a high ranking.

“It’s kind of like putting the target on your back before the season even starts,” Henning said.

It might be a nice compliment, but both Plendcio and Henning rightfully see the coaches’ poll as nothing more than that. Henning stated that he puts little stock in a ranking made before anyone has even laced up for a race.

He even admitted he was “kind of annoyed” by the rankings when he first saw them.

“As far as I’m concerned, everyone is ranked number one at this point and we’re all trying to do well,” Henning said. “I think both teams know they’re good teams, so it’s no surprise we’re being thought of as [good teams], but I don’t think we go in feeling like we’re No. 1 and we’re going to win because of a ranking.”

RANKING SHOWS RESPECT

Henning doubts the polls will seriously affect his teams’ pursuit of a conference title and has not spoken at length about them with the team. Nor should he. Their job is to compete their hardest and maximize their God-given talent wherever possible, regardless of what any coaches’ poll says.

“[The ranking’s] not really in the back of our heads,” Plendcio said. “Every practice… all that we’re doing is geared towards the end of the season already. All that we know we have to do is keep doing what we’re doing.”

For better or for worse, though, the rankings do show how differently Biola is perceived by their PacWest peers now compared to this time last year.

If one or both of Henning’s teams do take home a conference title in 2018—and they believe they can—they will not have drastically exceeded expectations.

Last year’s element of surprise is gone for the Eagles. Now, they have to soar.

Sports Editor Joel Ashor contributed to this story.