PALATINE, Ill. – When you hear the phrase "three-peat" in the Chicagoland area, the first thing that usually comes to mind is Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls teams that won three straight NBA championships in the '90s on two separate occasions. Fifteen years later, the Harper College men's cross country team begins its quest for a third consecutive NJCAA Div. III national championship.
Head coach Jim Macnider's squad returns five runners from last year's championship team and brings in a strong group of freshman runners.
"On paper, we are much better than we were the past two years," Macnider said. "We definitely have more depth, way better than last year. These guys are working hard."
Sophomores Nick Modlin (Wheeling, Ill./Wheeling) and Jhoan Lino (León, Guanajuato/Streamwood) boast experience from last year's nationals, where Modlin placed 19th and Lino placed 27th. Modlin had a stellar spring 2013 track and field season as well, placing fourth in both the 5000m and 10,000m at nationals. Lino placed fourth in the 1500m at nationals and was a member of the 3200m relay team that won a national title.
"They both have improved a ton coming into this year, and they are good in the classroom, too," Macnider said.
Other returners include Vince Greco (Elk Grove Village, Ill./Elk Grove), who placed 40th at last year's national meet, Livan Turamusima and Daniel Lim (Schaumburg, Ill./Streamwood).
The freshman group features two runners from Palatine High School in Zach Stella (/Palatine) and Sebastian Ramirez (/Palatine). Stella was a top-7 runner from the MSL champion Pirates and was a member of their all-state 3200m relay team. Other freshman who will contribute include Juan Barajas (/Schaumburg), Jordy Arriga, Andrew Guibord (/Prairie Ridge), Nick Kellerhals (/Hersey), John Majerus (/Elk Grove) and Connor Williams (/Wauconda).
Lino likes what he sees from the new runners and described them as a great group of guys who are talented and hard-working.
Harper's first meet, the Elmhurst College Invitational, was wiped out due to severe thunderstorms. The Hawks now open their season in Aurora at the Aurora Invite on Friday.
The Hawks will also participate in the Illinois Intercollegiate at Olivet Nazarene, the College of DuPage Invite, Benedictine Invite and Bradley Classic, all in preparation for the Region IV Championship and NJCAA Championship. Many of these meets will feature strong competition from four-year schools.
"We want to do our best in these meets leading up to nationals and make as many PRs as possible," Modlin said.
This year's Region IV Championship will be held in Joliet on Nov. 2. The NJCAA Championship will be hosted by Holyoke Community College in Northfield, Massachusetts on Nov. 9.