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Aug. 30, 2012

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—The 2012 Virginia men’s cross country team is primed to bounce back after finishing outside of the top-5 at the Atlantic Coast Conference Cross Country Championships for the first time since 1997. The squad opens the season with the Virginia Tech Invitational at 6 p.m. Friday (Aug. 31) in Blacksburg, Va.

“We have big expectations, the goal is to win the ACC Championship, the goal is to be at the NCAA Championship contending for a top-15 spot,” Virginia head men’s cross country coach Pete Watson said. “Bringing back Mark (Amirault) for a sixth year, getting Zach (Gates) from William and Mary, who’s been top 10 in the region before, and putting redshirt freshman Kyle (King) in there, we have seven guys who can run 14:10 or better in the 5K and that’s competitive with anybody in the country.”

The Cavalier men return four of their top five from a year ago, including graduate student Mark Amirault (Walpole, Mass.), who finished 27th at the NCAA Championships, earning All-America honors. Also returning are fifth-year senior Sean Keveren (Brentwood, Tenn.) who placed 18th in the 10,000 meters at the national outdoor track and field meet, junior Chris Foley (Chantilly, Va.), who earned silver in the 5,000 meters at the ACC indoor meet, and sophomore Drew Paisley (Virginia Beach, Va.), who set personal records in three events during the outdoor season.

Amirault, Foley and junior Thomas Porter (Fredericksburg, Va.) went 1-2-3 in the 5,000 meters at the ACC Indoor Championships, the first step to bring the men’s distance group back to prominence.

Virginia will also be boosted by redshirt freshman Kyle King (Yorktown, Va.), who did not compete during the cross country season but represented the United States at the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships in the 5,000 meters, placing 13th.

With Amirault, Keveren and graduate transfer Zach Gates (Fishers, Ind.) from William and Mary, the Cavaliers have a great deal of leadership. Gates has NCAA Championship experience and was the Colonial Athletic Association champion in 2010.

“I think it’s really important to have these three,” Watson said. “Bringing in Zach Gates, who was on the team two years ago at William and Mary that was fifth in the country, he has the experience and knows what it takes to be successful. We bring back Mark (Amirault), who was a top-30 cross country runner last year, that’s huge. And we bring back Sean (Keveren), who came back to life during the outdoor track season, making the NCAAs at 10,000 meters and vying for individual titles in the 5K and 10K at ACCs.

“We have three very solid leaders. I think their leadership, especially Mark and Sean, has shown through with the development of Chris Foley and Kyle King and other young guys on the team who latched on, followed them and made huge steps forward.”

The Cavaliers also see the arrival of three high school state champions – freshmen Mike Marsella (Hope Valley, R.I.), Connor Rog (Fairfield, Conn.) and Adam Visokay (Ruckersville, Va.). Marsella was the Rhode Island and New England cross country champion and was named the Gatorade Rhode Island Boys’ Cross Country Runner of the Year, while Rog was a two-time Gatorade honoree for the state of Connecticut after winning the state championship. Visokay, who ran for nearby Albemarle High School, was the Virginia AAA state champion in the 3,200 meters in 2011 and 2012.

Following the Virginia Tech Invitational on Aug. 31, the Cavaliers will host the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational on Sept. 22., which will see teams from Oklahoma, Syracuse, Michigan, Arkansas and Kentucky in action. Three weeks later, Virginia will travel to Madison, Wis., for the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. 12, which will feature some of the top teams in the country.

The ACC Championships will be hosted by Virginia Tech on Oct. 27 in Blacksburg, before the Cavaliers host their second meet of the season, the Virginia/Panorama Farms Open on Nov. 3. Six days later, the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships will be contested in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 9, while Louisville, Ky., will host the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships on Nov. 17.

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