Sept. 4, 2012
MILWAUKEE - The Marquette University men's cross country team returns a great deal of experience in 2012, even with the loss of two of its most decorated runners. The Golden Eagles return 13 runners from 2011, including six who have competed in at least a pair of BIG EAST Conference Championships.
"This group we have is very strong and I see no reason why we can't be just as good if not better than last year," sixth-year head coach Mike Nelson said of a team that tied its best BIG EAST finish ever in 2011. "We are good up front and we have great depth. It's going to be a tough group to compete against."
Seniors Connor Callahan, A.J. Gedwill, Jack Hackett and Patrick Maag along with junior Jack Senefeld competed in both the conference meet and NCAA Great Lakes Regional last fall.
Maag and Senefeld have been tabbed as the team's co-captains entering this season as Marquette is ranked eighth in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's (USTFCCCA) Great Lakes Region preseason poll.
The Golden Eagles did lose two of their top contributors to graduation in Blake Johnson and Peter Bolgert. Johnson was MU's top finisher in every race last fall, including 33rd- and 37th-place finishes at the BIG EAST Championships and NCAA Great Lakes Regional, respectively. Bolgert was a consistent performer as well for the Golden Eagles, finishing as the team's No. 2 runner in six out of the seven races.
The duo did a lot for the Marquette cross country program in their time at MU, and as Nelson points out, they will be missed on and off of the course.
"Not only are we going to miss them athletically, but their strong leadership set a great example for the team," Nelson said. "Overall, they set a really positive tone for the squad."
Despite the departure of Johnson and Bolgert, Nelson is optimistic for the men's side in the upcoming campaign, due in large part to the adversity that some of the runners have had to overcome in their careers.
"Some of the guys who are coming back have dealt with injury issues in the past that have held them back," Nelson said. "For the most part they have gotten through those injuries and have put together good stretches of racing and training. I think that tough mentality they have developed is going to play a huge part in our success this year."
Senefeld is one of the athletes who has to overcome injuries in his career. After not having an outdoor track and field season his first two years, he managed to put together a solid cross country campaign in 2011, scoring in all five races he competed in and a finishing with MU's second-best time at the BIG EAST Championships.
"I think with the training and confidence Jack (Senefeld) gained, he is another guy like Jack Hackett, who is capable of running in the low 24's for the 8k races," Nelson said.
Hackett, who did not score for MU in the first two races of last year, managed to find his stride in the middle of the 2011 season, scoring for MU in the final five competitions. The Port Washington, Wis., native turned in a top-50 finish at the BIG EAST Championships with an 8-kilometer time of 24:40.9.
"His confidence of being able to handle the longer distances is sky high right now," Nelson said. "I think Jack is confident in knowing that can run a 24-low in the 8k, which is exactly what this team needs."
Maag competed in every race in 2011 and finished as one of MU's top seven finishers in each competition. He is coming off an impressive outdoor track season where he qualified for the BIG EAST Conference outdoor meet.
"Maag's overall growth and maturity have been impressive," Nelson said. "I am very pleased with how he is training right now and it's obvious that he really wants to be successful this season."
Some of the other returners that could break into the mix for the Golden Eagles this season are Zack Grese, Bob Guthrie, Mitch Lacy, Evan Ross and David Sajdak.
"The guy no one really knows about is David Sajdak," Nelson said. "He is a solid track athlete who can also run cross country for us and I could see him making a run at our top seven."
One of the newcomers that has made a splash so far this fall is Andres Tineo-Paz, who Nelson could see breaking into the top seven.
"Andres Tineo-Paz could make that jump to one of our top runners, but it is going to be tough," Nelson said. "Not because our freshmen aren't talented, but I see a lot of other runners who will be under 26 minutes. These freshmen might need a year to develop into that type of runner."
After competing in the NIU Huskie Open to begin the year on Sept. 7, MU will round out the month of September at the National Catholic Championships (Sept. 14) at Notre Dame and the Greater Louisville Classic (Sept. 29).