Experience Should Pay Dividends For Cross Country
Aug. 31, 2011
MILWAUKEE – With the loss of leading runners on both the men’s and women’s sides, the Marquette University cross country teams will have a decidedly different look entering the 2011 season.
“I am extremely excited about this group,” fifth-year Marquette head cross country coach Mike Nelson said. “Overall both the men and women have had a fantastic summer of training. We have so many people who have run so many more miles than they did last year, and I feel a lot better where the teams are entering this season. So far we have really been training well and I am looking ahead to this season.”
The continued improvement of an experienced pack of runners should lead to improved results in 2011 for the men who have lacked a true front runner since the graduation of 2008 All-BIG EAST Conference performer Kyle Saginus.
The Golden Eagles recorded their lowest point total since 2007 at the 2010 Great Lakes Regional Championships because of the depth in their top seven, most of which returns. Marquette does lose Brice Cleland to graduation, but the strides made by returning contributors could push them into the mix for their first NCAA appearance in program history.
Both extremely competitive and very talented, Johnson and Bolgert are seasoned runners who keep an even keel, something that can be extremely important when the races become longer in October and November.
“Blake not only brings athletic contributions but great leadership qualities,” Nelson said. “He is just a good guy and does things right; he takes good care of his body and takes his recovery seriously. He is a great role model and someone to have as one of our leaders.”
Johnson has produced consistently throughout his career, placing 54th at the Great Lakes meet and 38th at the BIG EAST Championships in 2010. He finished second on the Golden Eagles in all but one race during last season, in which he placed third.
“I try to do things right all season,” Johnson said. “Eat right, sleep right and mentally prepare the night before and morning of a race. Go through what you want to do and picture the race, how it might lay out and think of different scenarios and how you would handle that.”
Johnson sees the benefit of having a large group of returning runners as the Golden Eagles continue to climb the BIG EAST ranks.
“We are no longer a young team, we have a lot of experience and I believe that will show. It’s going to be a lot of juniors and seniors in our top seven and we are going to be more experienced. We have been there before and we know what’s going on,” Johnson said.
Bolgert, a two-time Academic All-American, returns to provide a competitive fire to push the rest of the runners at the top of MU’s roster. The Sheboygan, Wis., native recorded the top finish of his career at the 2010 BIG EAST Championships, crossing the finish line in 26:38.7 to place 44th.
Joining the top group of men are junior Connor Callahan and redshirt sophomore Jack Senefeld, both of whom have impressed in their time with the squad. Callahan finished third for Marquette at the 2010 Great Lakes Regional, just ahead of Bolgert, and will be in the mix at the top of the pack for the Golden Eagles.
Senefeld, meanwhile, did not compete at the regional, but was MU’s second-place finisher at the BIG EAST Championships and placed seventh at the National Catholic Invitational. His mark at the National Catholic was MU’s highest finish and helped the Golden Eagles place second out of 35 squads last season, a meet where Marquette returns on Sept. 16.
Another redshirt sophomore who could jump into Marquette’s top seven is Spencer Agnew. Agnew led all runners at Marquette’s fourth annual Alumni Run on Aug. 27 and has had the best summer of training in his life.
The men enter the season ranked 12th in the Great Lakes Region preseason poll by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association and will look to improve upon last year’s 10th-place regional finish and eighth place BIG EAST mark.
The top of the women’s group is much harder to grasp with the loss of Academic All-American Olivia Johnson, who was Marquette’s top finisher in each meet during the 2010 campaign.
“It’s really tough to say on the women’s side who will be our top runners because we are going to have a fairly large pack of runners that are close to each other,” Nelson said. “I think on any given day there are multiple women who could be our first, second or third runners. I don’t know at this point if we will have a dominant number one as we did last year with Olivia.”
The women will have to rely on more of a pack mentality than in recent years and the leadership roles will be filled by four four-year runners in Kate Horan, Courtney Kelly, Bekki Misanin and Carly Windt.
This season the squad elected not to select captains as a way of providing more accountability from the team’s veteran runners.
“This year we decided as a group that because we have several seniors who have their own leadership styles, we wouldn’t elect captains. The seniors are going to take it upon themselves to be leaders,” Nelson said.
An intriguing mix returns for Nelson with a group that has had an impressive summer in terms of mileage.
“Our women have had good track seasons and great summers of training,” Nelson said. “Many of them have run more miles this summer than they ever have in their life. I feel good about the women we have on the team and their fitness level coming into the season. The dynamic of how we race could be a little different, but I feel as a team we are going to take that next step and get better.”
Horan is one of those runners who has put in a great deal of miles this summer and is looking for her best season to date. The St. Louis native was MU’s second-place finisher at the 2010 NCAA Great Lakes Regional and can always be seen running around the Milwaukee area during the summer.
Windt, a redshirt junior and local product from Greenfield, Wis., has also assumed a leadership role and will look to contribute while recovering from a minor offseason injury.
“We are going to have a lot of new faces up front with the loss of Olivia, but a lot of girls have worked hard in the offseason,” Windt said. “Getting them experience in the first few meets is the most important thing and Individual improvement for every girl is the main goal.”
Outside of Horan and Windt, Kelly has made strides throughout her career and will be a factor, as will sophomores Sarah Ball, Claire Guidinger, Jessa Hackman, Rebecca Pachuta and Hannah Frett. Ball and Guidinger each dealt with illness last season and Nelson believes that adversity has made each of them tougher in the process.
“Sarah Ball struggled with injuries and came on during the track season with a solid year,” Nelson explained. “She will definitely be one of our main contributors as the season progresses. The thing that has impressed me with Claire has been her toughness in working through her illness; she is doing everything she can to get back out there for us.”
Freshmen Elisa Meyle and Kenzie Vicker are very talented and could contribute immediately, as well as senior Alyssa Stevens, running in her first cross country season, and Wisconsin-transfer Alyssa Beste.
The women will look to improve upon last season’s 10th-place finish at the BIG EAST Championships and climb into the top 15 in the Great Lakes Region by the end of this season. The BIG EAST remains stacked again in 2011 as three of the nation’s top five women’s teams reside in the conference, including No. 1-ranked Georgetown.
“I am really excited about the season because a lot of things are still up in the air,” Nelson said. “I think our top five could change quite a bit from meet to meet and we have several newcomers and returners who have had injury issues that are now healthy and running well.”
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