Cross Country 2014 Season Preview
Sept. 3, 2014
MILWAUKEE - As the Marquette University men's and women's cross country programs prepare for their 10th seasons as members of the BIG EAST Conference in 2014, the league has continued its dominance at the sport's upper levels and the Golden Eagles look to keep pace.
The BIG EAST's most dominant sport is without question women's cross country, which saw Providence crowned NCAA Champion in 2013, while Georgetown and Butler each placed in the top five nationally.
To vault into that group would take a giant leap, but eighth-year head coach Mike Nelson sees a great deal of potential in his women's team, which returns five of its top seven runners from a 2013 team that placed sixth at the conference meet.
"I would be disappointed if we didn't move up a little bit in the BIG EAST," Nelson said. "Xavier is our No. 1 competition to move up into fifth, but that top four would be quite a challenge as BIG EAST teams were first, third, fifth and 19th at nationals."
The women return their top finisher from the first six meets of last season in junior Kellie Greenwood, whom Nelson believes, along with classmate Kayla Spencer, is poised for a big season. Greenwood led the Golden Eagles at the BIG EAST Championships with a 24th-place finish, but was second to the since-graduated Rebecca Pachuta at the NCAA Great Lakes Region Championships.
"I think this year Kellie can get down to 21-minutes-flat and she is training better than she ever has," Nelson said. "Kellie is one on whom I don't place too many expectations. We just talk about being at her best, and when she is at her best, she is pretty darn good."
While Greenwood was consistently at the head of the pack last season, Spencer's team placement fluctuated as the year progressed. She was MU's third runner at the beginning of the season and the squad's fourth at the conference meet, before finishing sixth on the team at the NCAA regional. Spencer is one of two team captains along with senior Haley Loprieno.
"Kayla does not necessarily look the toughest on the outside, but man, she paints her fingernails black before meets like she is going to war," Nelson said. "She is a great competitor who is all about the team. Kellie and Kayla have done a great job for us and have carried a lot of the weight. I don't see any of that changing as they continue to grow physically and competitively as athletes."
That duo should be joined up front by sophomore Brittney Feivor, whose tenacity Nelson paints as similar to Spencer's.
"Brittney is a tough competitor and if you want to tell her she can't do something she uses it as motivation," Nelson said. "She was the one telling me what the freshman record was in certain events because she was going after them. She will definitely be one of our top runners."
Feivor notched a time of 21:36 as MU's No. 2 runner at the 2013 BIG EAST meet, which was hosted by Marquette in Somers, Wisconsin, near her hometown of Pleasant Prairie.
While Feivor represents the youth and potential in the Golden Eagles' lineup, senior Elisia Meyle, one of the team leaders in GPA, has been a constant contributor since her freshman season in 2011. After struggling through some injuries, Meyle jumped in as MU's third runner at the league meet last season and will factor in at the top as well. The North Aurora, Illinois native is the only returning Marquette athlete to have run at the last three conference championships.
"Elisia had done a tremendous job and always been the glue for us. She is a great person to send others out with because she is a very smart runner and I think she will be a consistent scorer for us," Nelson said.
Others who will be in the mix as point scorers for the women include sophomore Alison Parker, who will be joined on the squad this season by her freshmen twin sisters Jennifer and Jessica, while the men's team also has freshmen twins in Aric and Alec Miller.
"Almost twenty percent of our women's team is Parkers," Nelson said with a laugh. "In the recruiting process, Aric and Alec Miller committed on the same day and it almost felt like cheating. I told all four of them that I was recruiting each individually, while I am also recruiting their brother or sister. It was an interesting dynamic and I think that all of them will make a tremendous impact on the program."
While Nelson was able to more clearly distinguish the top of his women's squad, the men's picture is a bit more muddled with the departure of the pair of fifth-year seniors.
"I think on the men's squad we will be a pack team," Nelson said. "We could have 10 guys under 26 minutes, but no one under 25. I think you will see five or seven guys all within 15 seconds of each other."
When asked how he envisioned the top of the men's roster shaking out, Nelson rattled off 11 names for the top seven, indicating that he may not know what his 2014 BIG EAST lineup will look like until closer to Halloween.
"We've got a number of guys who started to contribute for the first time last fall and all of them know that they are THE guys now," Nelson said. "They know that they are just not guys who can sort of help out - they have to score and get the job done for us. They really seem to be embracing that role and are excited about it."
"Blake Lawson did a tremendous job for us last year and was our number three runner behind Spencer and Jack on a number of occasions," Nelson said. "Blake really had to fight through some adversity his first few years here with various injuries and ailments. I thought for a time that he might not even be able to continue because of so much adversity. It's like anybody who can go through something and come out stronger on the other end and show a lot of heart."
True juniors Andres Tineo-Paz, William Hennessy, Michael Corr, Cody Haberkorn and Patrick Campbell all fluctuated in and out of Marquette's top seven last fall, while then-freshman Nate Gomoll also made three appearances.
"William Hennessy has scored and been in the top five a good chunk of his career," Nelson said. "Cody Haberkorn would be a leader for us and maybe even our number one, but he is doing an internship, a co-op, this fall so he will be redshirting. It will be tough to lose him but we will get him back for a fifth year and he will be stronger then."
In addition to Gomoll and fellow sophomore Christian Zambrano, the youth on the roster will be bolstered by a recruiting class which includes the aforementioned Miller twins from West Bend, Wisconsin and Jack Carpenter.
"Jack Carpenter really had a tremendous senior season in the fall, placing sixth in the Illinois cross country championships. He also ran well at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional," said Nelson "Alec Miller, who probably has the best track PRs, had mononucleosis during his senior fall and really derailed his season, but he was able to come back and take fifth at the Wisconsin state meet. Aric also made some improvements as a senior and was 11th at the state meet. The key for all freshmen is how they adjust from racing 5k to 8k to 10k."
The Golden Eagles begin their 2014 season on Friday, Sept. 5 at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course in Verona, Wisconsin at the Badger Opener. It will mark the first of three meets at the course in which MU will compete in 2014, with the final being the NCAA Great Lakes Region Championships on Friday, Nov. 15.
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