Sept. 3, 2009
MILWAUKEE- The Marquette men's and women's cross country squads kick off the 2009 season at 6 p.m. Friday at the DePaul Opener in Lincolnwood, Ill.
"The idea for us this weekend is to go down and get our feet wet," said head coach Mike Nelson. "It is more of a low key meet for us with a shorter distance, so it is a good way to open the season. One of the reasons for the two-mile Alumni Run last weekend was a build up so the team would be ready for this weekend and then the normal meets in the coming weeks. It is a good course to see where we are at and we will use this as a fitness check."
The women's team will look to return to the NCAA Championships in 2009 for the first time since 2005 with a bevy of experienced runners. Both captains from last year, seniors Amanda Beggs and Jayne Grebinski, and MU's top finisher in the BIG EAST Championships and NCAA Great Lakes Regional, Anna Weber, will return for their final years at MU.
Nelson believes that this year's women's group could be one of the best at Marquette in recent memory.
"I think we could make a run at the national championships, but it is very, very difficult," Nelson said. "I do feel like this is one of the best Marquette cross country teams of this decade and I know we made it to nationals every year from 2002-05. Most of the girls in the top seven have been around for two or three years and they know the goals and what they need to be doing. It has be been a really solid summer of preparation."
It looks as though Weber and Grebinski will lead the women once again, although juniors Olivia Johnson and Laurie Dalrymple will also make a push after adjusting to life in the BIG EAST last season.
"I hope it is a battle for our number one position between Jayne, Anna, Laurie and Olivia," Nelson said. "I do think Jayne, if she puts it together, has a shot at the national championships. Anna was our number one last year and has run consistently well in cross country."
Dalrymple and Johnson each transferred to Marquette last year, from Tulane and Northwestern College, respectively. Dalrymple focused on longer distances during the track seasons, while Johnson was mainly a middle-distance runner.
"Laurie is coming in much more prepared than she was last year. She knows where she fits in and is more able to handle the challenges that are coming at her," Nelson explained. "Olivia, coming in from an NAIA school, was overwhelmed last year. Now she knows the expectations and what she needs to do with her training. I feel, like some of the other women, she is more prepared to handle the challenges this year."
The men's squad has to deal with the loss of All-BIG EAST performer Kyle Saginus, who finished 12th at the 2008 BIG EAST Championships to become the only Marquette male cross country runner to ever earn All-BIG EAST honors.
With a roster which includes only two upperclassmen in juniors Brice Cleland and Nick Szczech, the Golden Eagles will rely on a stable of young runners, all recruited by Nelson, to lead the team in 2009.
"On the men's side we are very young, but we have a very talented group," Nelson said. "I think we should be led by Nick Szczech and Brice Cleland, and hopefully Blake Johnson. Where all these freshmen fall in, who knows. Between all of the new guys there are 13 state champions coming in."
After a very impressive opening campaign in Milwaukee, in which he was the squad's third place finisher at the BIG EAST Championships and Great Lakes Regional, Szczech fell off a bit as a sophomore while fighting health issues. Now that he is fully healthy, Nelson thinks the Cudahy, Wis., native is ready to make a leap in production and consistency.
"Nick Szczech is good. That is all there is to it. Nick is very good," Nelson said. "If Nick has a consistent base of training behind him, which he does, I think you will see him make some nice improvements over what he did last year. He is really looking strong right now and if we can keep him on the right track he will continue to do some special things."
Along with Szczech, Cleland and Johnson are both expected to take on vital roles from the outset.
"I see Blake making some really nice improvements and Brice having a really, really strong year. [Cleland's] training has derailed this summer due to injury, however I think that will force him to reach his peak later in the season. The last two years the regional race has been his worst race of the year and his best races have been right in the middle. I think that will be the opposite this year," said Nelson.
A group of sophomores are also expected to step up, along with Johnson to help the team this year. Patrick Keeley fought through illness last year but had a strong season with the track team, finishing the season fifth in the U.S. Junior National Championships in the 10,000-meter run. Dominick Rosario could impact the team as well, having almost 200 more miles of training this summer than he did last year.
"If someone does fall off for one reason or another, someone can step in and fill that void," Nelson said. "We haven't necessarily had that in the past on either side and its nice that we have more depth. It has taken two years of pretty solid of recruiting to get there."
Marquette will host the 2009 BIG EAST Championships in Kenosha, Wis., at the Dr. Wayne E. Dannehl Cross Country Course and will compete solely in the Midwest this fall, allowing fans a unique first-hand look at the Golden Eagles
The teams open their seasons at the DePaul Opener on Friday before returning to Wisconsin to run in at the site of the BIG EAST Championships, Sat., Sept. 19 in the Midwest Cross Country Meet.
Following the Wisconsin Inter-Regional Invitational on Sat., Oct. 3, the Golden Eagles travel to the NCAA Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., on Sat., Oct. 17, before returning for the BIG EAST Championships.
From there Marquette will travel to the NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 14 in the hopes of qualifying for the NCAA National Championships.