Men's cross country preview: Four NCAA veterans give Bobcats a good outlook

Consistently strong veteran Justin Levine captains the 2019 Bates men's cross country team along with junior Ryan Nealis. (File photo by d3photography.com)

LEWISTON, Maine -- Four veterans of the 2018 NCAA Championships form the core of a 2019 Bates men's cross country team that will again contend to be one of the better teams in New England, the sport's toughest region in Division III.

On the heels of last Saturday's annual alumni meet, Bates hosts the annual Bates/Colby Class Wave Meet Saturday at Pineland Farms to officially begin head coach Al Fereshetian's 25th season leading the team.

Senior Justin Levine (Boca Raton, Fla.), who finished second on the team at nationals last November, will captain the Bobcats along with junior Ryan Nealis (London, England), the team's alternate at the meet.

"Justin's been just a tremendous part of our program, very consistent and one of those guys that we can just count on that is going to give us a good presence at the front of our field," said Fereshetian. "We're really excited to see what Ryan's going to do this year because he had a phenomenal track season last year and ended up running becoming a 4:13 miler, which is good by anybody's standards. But at the same time, this was really the first time that he's come into a cross country season with a summer preparation and ready to go."

Sophomore Bart Rust (Croton on Hudson, N.Y.), an All-New England selection in 2018 along with Levine, has emerged as the team's likely top runner, and junior Tucker Barber (Wilton, Maine) also helped the team finish in 26th place in Division III a year ago and will eye a return to nationals.

The squad's several other veteran scorers from varsity meets include sophomore Henry Raff (Hailey, Idaho), sophomore Jackson Donahue (Princeton, N.J.), senior Gabe Benson (Maplewood, N.J.) and sophomore Nic Stathos (Wellesley, Mass.). Junior Christopher Barker (Burlington, Vt.) and sophomore Jackson Elkins (South Deerfield, Mass.) will look to translate success from last year's track and field campaigns onto the trail this season. Seven first-year runners round out a 24-man roster.

Bates will play host again next Saturday, Sept. 14, for the Bates Invitational, before hitting the road for the remainder of the season. Highlights include the Maine State Meet in Waterville on Oct. 5, the Oberlin College Inter-Regional Rumble on Oct. 19, the NESCAC Championships Nov. 2 at Williams, NCAA Regionals Nov. 16 at Bowdoin and the NCAA Championships Nov. 23 in Louisville, Ky.