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After some planning and preparation, the College of Southern Maryland is now offering cross country and the program is gearing up for its inaugural season.

Head cross country coach Chris Tuttle and assistant coach Josh Trice are sharing their expertise, knowledge and love of the sport with their growing team.

Tuttle is also the aquatics and community services coordinator at CSM. Trice is an added bonus to the coaching staff. A former CSM student, Trice is an ultramarathon runner, competing in 50-milers.

“We have three athletes that are signed,” Tuttle said. “We’re still working with a few other potential [athletes]. We’re excited. We’re actually just now getting to practice this week, just because of the late addition of the sport.”

The first collegiate meet is scheduled for Oct. 19 at Hood College in Frederick.

Thomas Stone High School graduate Peyton Reynolds, St. Mary’s Ryken graduate Jackie Clark and North Point graduate Adrienne Milledge have signed up for the team.

Tuttle, in first talks with CSM athletic director Michelle Ruble over a year ago, was thrilled with the idea.

“I think the program here is going to do great, because all of the high schools have track and cross country and the local college never had,” Tuttle said, “and so I think this year is all about getting exposure. We’re going to be working over our next five to six weeks getting ready for the meet.”

Tuttle studied recreation management at State University of New York Delhi, where he also received Academic All-American and National Champion cross country honors. He received a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from SUNY New Paltz.

Tuttle was captain of the men’s cross country and track and field teams, earned All-Region honors. A certified personal trainer and lifeguard, Tuttle also has coaching certification from the Road Runners Club of America.

Spots are definitely still available for eligible runners. When the team came together last April, a lot of college freshman had already decided on their colleges, so Tuttle is expecting many more athletes next season.

Reynolds said she’s looking forward to building a successful team from the ground up. She talked about two of her favorite places to practice.

“The Rail Trail and Oak Ridge Park because the Rail Trail is good for easier and longer runs and Oak Ridge has a challenging aspect for training on terrains.”

Reynolds welcomes any new and experienced runners who may want to join in.

“Yes, new people are always wanted.” Reynolds said.

Tuttle added, “It’s getting some exposure this year and now a lot of the local coaches and I have met face to face and have had phone interactions and the response has been good, so I’m excited about that.”

Tuttle said he’s seen the traffic grow over the last two summers at the Indian Head Rail Trail, a 13-mile trail that connects Indian Head to Route 301 in White Plains.

“I’m out there a lot and just seeing the need in the community is great and with the schools having cross country, it just fits in perfectly now with the college adding in a team and building for the future,” Tuttle said. “We’ll probably meet there once or twice a week for our practices and do some of our runs from right there.”

Tuttle said the team is looking to do a practice scrimmage at a local 5K within the community to get the runners used to a competition environment.

“It will take a lot of recruiting, but I think it will really catch on on its own,” Tuttle said. “If kids don’t go away to a four-year school and stay here at CSM, now they have an opportunity to participate and we’ll be able to catch those kids and keep them involved in their sport and hopefully we can groom them before they go off to a four-year school.”

CSM does have some limited scholarship money to offer as a Division I junior college program.

Having a small group, CSM will have a good opportunity for bonding. Tuttle said the runners on the team are capable in ability and experience and having Laurel Springs Regional Park in La Plata and the Rail Trail in close proximity only benefits them even more.

“A couple girls that we have are dedicated to the sport, which is going to be a big thing for us,” Tuttle said. “They’ve run all four years in high school and they know what to expect. They’ve been running all summer long. Even though it’s a small group, I see that they can bond well quickly.”

College of Southern Maryland cross country

Head coach: Chris Tuttle (first season)

Last year: First year of program

Athletes to watch: Peyton Reynolds (Fr., Thomas Stone), Jackie Clark (Fr., St. Mary’s Ryken), Adrienne Milledge (Fr., North Point)

Strengths: The excitement and spark for a new team and to get the program up and running are evident within the coaching staff. Tuttle is passionate about distance running and is a national champion runner. He’s dedicated to growing the much-needed program at CSM.

Weaknesses: With any new team, the bumps and bruises of learning the conference and the competition will take some time and the lack of depth make play a role in wins and losses, but the team is taking it all in stride and are ready to compete.

Coach’s comments: “I like the positive support that I’ve seen from local high school [athletic directors] and runners. With the team being smaller, they are bonding quickly and are at the same level competitively. Our runners have had four years of high school cross country experience, so they know what to expect.”

Key meets: Oct. 19 at Hood College, Oct. 26 Regional Championships

TAMMY SHOWALTER

tshowalter@somdnews.com