First National Athletes of the Week for 2014 Cross Country Announced

By Kyle Terwillegar, USTFCCCA

September 2, 2014   

NEW ORLEANS - Cross country season is back, and with it, too, is the weekly National Athlete of the Week award presented by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Tuesday.

Who stood out this opening weekend? Damian Roszko of Mississippi State and Raquel Hefflin of UC-Riverside took the honors for Division I men and women, respectively, while Dillon Farrell of Moravian and Brianna Hickey of Chicago earned the men’s and women’s awards, respectively, for Division III.

Get the full details on each of their weekends below.

National Athlete of the Week is an award selected and presented by the USTFCCCA Communications Staff at the beginning of each week to six collegiate cross country athletes (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions).

Nominations are open to the public. Coaches and sports information directors are encouraged to nominate their student-athletes; as are student-athletes, their families and friends, and fans of their programs.

The award seeks to highlight not only the very best times, marks and scores on a week-to-week basis, but also performances that were significant on the national landscape and/or the latest in a series of strong outings. Quality of competition, suspenseful finishes and other factors will also play a role in the decision.

Beginning next week, all three NCAA Divisions will be recognized. The NCAA Division II cross country season doesn’t begin until later this week.

Damian Roszko, Mississippi State – Division I Men

Senior | Bialystok, Poland

There’s nothing quite like taking down an in-state rival to kick off your senior cross country campaign, and that’s exactly how Damian Roszko of Mississippi State started his final season under the lights at the Memphis Twilight Invitational. Just nine days after arriving in America from a summer home in Poland, he held off runner-up Ole Miss frosh Mark Robertson by five seconds to win the individual four-mile race in 20:02.56.

With Roszko – a 3:39 1500-meter runner who plans to take on the 5000 meters this year in track – leading the way, Mississippi State tied rival Ole Miss atop the team standings at 49 points each, with Ole Miss ultimately taking the title on a tiebreaker.

The win was his first in a Mississippi State uniform since arriving in Starkville, Mississippi, a year ago. He chatted with Flotrack about his race, his running history and his goals this year following his big win. The Bulldogs are in action again September 13 at the Vanderbilt Classic.

Raquel Hefflin, UC-Riverside – Division I Women

Senior | Compton, California

In her first race in nearly a year, Raquel Hefflin of UC-Riverside earned the season-opening USTFCCCA Division I National Athlete of the Week award.  She did so by winning the Nature’s Bakery Nevada Twilight Classic in a 4k course record time of 14:06.  Hefflin finished 23 seconds clear of a field that featured three regionally ranked teams: Mountain No. 7 Nevada and No. 10 Utah, and West No. 8 UCLA.  Keeping with a growing and welcome national trend, the race was held under the lights on Friday evening.

Hefflin’s last race before redshirting the 2014 indoor and outdoor seasons was the 2013 West Region cross country championship, where she finished 36th.  Her strongest mark on the track is a 2:08 800m, but her stellar season opener may be a harbinger of success at a distance nearly eight times 800 meters on the trails this fall.  Hefflin and the rest of the Highlanders return to action on Saturday, September 13 at home.

Dillon Farrell, Moravian – Division III Men

Senior | North Wales, Pennsylvania

No stranger to success at the Lehigh Invitational – he was third there to open his 2013 junior campaign – Dillon Farrell of Moravian took it up another notch to start his senior season in 2014 as he claimed the individual win in a kick to the finish. The two-time Landmark Conference cross country champion edged out Division I Lehigh senior Nick Ward at the line by less than a second in 18:26.61 over the 6K course, crossing the finish ahead of a string of Lehigh competitors.

His performance was nearly 40 seconds quicker than his third-place showing in Bethlehem a year ago. His Moravian squad finished runner-up among six teams to team winner Lehigh.

Brianna Hickey, Chicago – Division III Women

Junior | Webster Groves, Missouri

For her efforts in winning the Elmhurst College Early Bird meet, Brianna Hickey of the University of Chicago is the season’s first USTFCCCA women’s Division III national cross country athlete of the week. Hickey outkicked Aurora’s Emily Paull to win a battle of two track All-Americans (Hickey in the mile, Paull in the steeplechase) by a second.  Hickey and Paull finished 24 seconds clear of the rest of the field in Friday evening’s 4k, with Hickey coming out on top in  14:58.

It was the second time in the junior’s career that she finished as the No.1 runner for the Maroons.

Hickey talked with Flotrack in May about her rise from a  5:12 high school miler to a  4:32 collegiate 1500 runner.  Last fall, she finished 10th in the UAA, 16th in the Midwest, and 60th in the nation for a Chicago team that took its first-ever ascent of the podium steps with a fourth place NCAA finish.

The preseason poll has Hickey and her teammates tipped to repeat that fourth place; next up is a race at NAIA Olivet Nazarene  next Friday evening.