Academic All-American and NCAA regional participant Chris Berry is gone. So is his wife, Tara Gietema.
But as always, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga cross country cupboard is far from bare. And while 21st-year coach Bill Gautier is a little apprehensive about the women's team for depth reasons, he sees the men's team being able to run with all the Southern Conference except perhaps Kenyan-laden UNC Greensboro.
"Greensboro has the best -- the best -- runner in the NCAA this year, and a couple of other guys who went to the NCAAs," Gautier said this week. "That has brought a bit of visibility for our conference, which certainly is stronger than it used to be. Furman hired the head coach from Ohio State, for another example. But we were one guy from being in the top two in the conference last year.
"You can't replace Chris Berry -- he's been good since he got here -- but he left a lasting impact on these guys."
The UTC teams begin their season this evening in the PowerAde Invitational they host on the Moccasin Bend course, and Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee State, Austin Peay, UT-Martin and Lipscomb are among the Division I participants.
The Mocs won't have their top returning runner, Lucas Cotter from Collierville, Tenn. He still is recovering from an ankle-area injury sustained last spring, but he's been progressing well lately with work on the Alter G treadmill at the Siskin Rehab center and thinks he'll be ready by the next home meet.
He hopes to be at full speed by the conference race.
Cotter said fellow seniors running as juniors Mark Cole and Nathan Wanuch have "stepped up" as leaders in practice as well as other areas, and in the team's extensive pool work Cotter also is "very much with the guys every stroke of the way."
Gautier described Paul Stuart from Brentwood, Tenn., and Trevor Janssen from Ontario as "two very strong freshmen," and Drew Austell is back after being the fifth man last fall. John Gilpin likewise has another year in the program, and former Collegedale Academy tennis player Patrick O'Brien "really helped us last spring in track," Gautier said.
He also noted that freshmen Austin Ethridge and Matthew Marshall from Signal Mountain could help by the end of the season.
"Our team is as strong as it's been in a while," said Cotter, who said one of his reasons for coming to UTC was because he discovered that "the guys who came here and stuck with the plan got better. It's always been that way, and it always will be that way with Coach here."
The women's team will be led by Amanda Sumner, a junior running her first cross country season for UTC. But she finished third in the 1500 and was ninth with a personal best in the 800 at the SoCon outdoor track meet last spring, despite running with plantar fasciitis.
And she actually prefers the fall season.
"I love cross country," said the Bristol, Conn., resident who developed a fondness for UTC when her brother attended. "And I'm very excited that we're about to start. I'm in really good shape, and I feel really confident.
"I feel good about the other girls, too. They've all worked really, really hard, and they all really want to do well. I think as long as we all stay healthy we'll be tough."
Three strong runners Gautier thought would be available for the Lady Mocs are not. Two of those are former Baylor standouts Rachel and Rebecca Greenwall, who transferred from Georgia Southern last January but were not given releases for this semester. They'll be eligible for track in 2013.
"Amanda is one of the top runners in the conference. She can challenge for the conference title," Gautier said. "And we could be a top-tier team if our top five stay healthy."
Kathryn Stuart and 2011 surprise Keeley Stewart from St. Andrew's-Sewanee are other Lady Mocs leaders, he said, and Mary Cumbee is a solid senior who's having to work practice around student teaching