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Steady improvement bodes well for future Big Ten competition

The Rutgers men’s and women’s cross country teams both had promising seasons in what was a transition year for the programs.

With next year’s arrival into the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights proved they are prepared for the heightened competition.

In their only season in the AAC, the Knights had impressive showings from both the men’s and women’s teams.

Men’s head coach Mike Mulqueen said during the season that the nucleus of the program developed in an impressive way as the season went on.

Although the Knights started out slow in September, senior Chris Banafato and juniors C.J. Defabio and Anthony Horton posted career bests on every course they ran by November.

The core is expected to contribute in a big way next year. Rutgers loses one of its top runners in Banafato, but underclassmen such as sophomore Jamin Vekaria and freshman Nick Price have shown they are ready to step up and compete.

For the women’s team, the Knights’ season expectations were tempered once top senior runners Ashley Deckert and Brianna Deming redshirted. Rutgers exceeded its own goals head coach James Robinson set and finished strong in the AAC Championships last month.

The constant presence of sophomore Paige Senatore, who paced the team in all their races, along with the senior leadership of Rashmi Singh, proved invaluable for the Knights.

After every Knight posted a career best at the AAC Championships, Rutgers has a good feeling about the upcoming year. The return of two of its top competitors will undoubtedly help the team next year.

Both programs have a lot to look forward to next season. The unexpected performances and continued improvement on both sides have given the Knights a positive outlook for their Big Ten future.

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