The CCSU men's cross country team was picked by the Northeast Conference head coaches to place first in the NEC this season, the league announced on Tuesday. Central received eight first place votes in the 2012 preseason poll and looks to earn its fourth consecutive NEC title.
In his three years since becoming head coach of Central Connecticut, Eric Blake has built a program that has captured three consecutive NEC titles. The Blue Devils finished 17th at the 2011 NCAA Northeast Regional, the best of any NEC team.
The Blue Devils return a deep field, despite losing 2011 NEC Outstanding Performer Sam Alexander to graduation. Senior Craig Hunt is the top returner for CCSU. He took second at last year's championship in 26:06.90, and has finished in the top-10 and earned All-Conference accolades each year since his career began in 2009. Hunt was also a two-time NEC Athlete of the Week in 2011. In addition, Hunt finished 57th with the second-fastest NEC time (32:48) at the NCAA Northeast Regional, behind teammate Alexander.
Sophomore Andy Pullaro, who placed 19th at the 2011 NEC meet and was named NEC Rookie of the Week in 2011, and senior John Krell, who finished in 22nd and was named NEC Athlete of the Week in 2011, will also be major contributing factors for the Blue Devils. Others who will add depth include sophomore Brian Biekert (35th) and junior Andrew Hill (36th). All four raced at the NCAA Regional meet last year.
Last season's runner-up, Saint Francis (PA), collected two first-place votes and was tabbed second, while Monmouth received one first-place vote and the third spot in the poll. Mount St. Mary's was fourth, followed by Sacred Heart, Robert Morris, Quinnipiac and Wagner. Bryant, St. Francis (NY) and Fairleigh Dickinson rounded out the 11-team field.
Central will open the 2012 season on Sept. 8 at the Bryant Invitational in Smithfield, RI.
CLICK HERE for the full NEC release.