Sep 3, 2013
MILWAUKEE - Some of the names may look different, but the competitive excellence of cross country in the BIG EAST Conference has not diminished. That high level of competition excites Marquette University head coach Mike Nelson and his program's prospects going forward, especially this season as the Golden Eagles host the conference championships at the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course in Somers, Wis.
"The strength and depth of the BIG EAST in the sports of men's and women's cross country is truly elite and we are very excited about the opportunity to host the first conference championship of the newly reconfigured conference this season," Nelson said. "The league will continue to be one of the premiere in all the country and the chance to compete against the best on an annual basis is great for our program. BIG EAST Conference members value hard work in the classroom and on the cross country course."
The league has produced numerous national champions in Villanova, Providence and Georgetown and currently boasts the No. 1 women's team in the country in the Friars.
Nelson believes that MU could be in line for its best season in quite some time as an experienced group on the women's side provides Marquette a great deal of intrigue entering the season. The Golden Eagles return most of the top of their lineup after notching their highest BIG EAST Conference finish (seventh) since 2008 last year.
Senior Hannah Frett and junior Haley Loprieno will serve as team captains and a strong leadership group including seniors Sarah Ball, Grace Magliola and Rebecca Pachuta will provide stability.
"I think all of the women's seniors are set to have their best seasons yet," Nelson said. "I have been happy with how each has responded to adversity and I think that is going to help them this year. I look for these seniors to litter our top 10, but I know they are all going to provide great leadership in their own way."
Sophomores Kayla Spencer, Sarah Poirier and Kellie Greenwood all received great experience in their first seasons, although the group loses Molly Hanson as a transfer to Wisconsin. Hanson led MU at all but one meet in 2012 and placed as high as ninth overall at the Bradley Classic midway through the year.
"The way we ran at the Bradley Classic was a good precursor heading into this year," Nelson said of the team's performance at the mid-October meet it will return to in 2013. "It is an exciting group we have this year and I truly believe that if they are running at their best, this could be our best group since 2007 and 2008."
The keys to achieving that goal could fall on the shoulders of juniors Elisia Meyle and Kenzie Vicker, who despite leading MU at most meets in 2011, suffered through various ailments last fall and were never healthy.
"Last year Elisia didn't get to run much in cross and I look for her to have a very solid season," Nelson said. "There is a good chance she could be our top runner this year. Kenzie is a complete wildcard for our squad. She has been doing triathlons this summer, is healthy and has run as our No. 1 before."
Meyle was Marquette's lead runner at both the BIG EAST meet and the NCAA regional in 2011 and a return to form could provide the boost the Golden Eagles need to reach their potential.
"I'm going to guess that Elisia will lead us but two through seven could all be within five seconds," said Nelson, who added that freshmen Brittney Feivor, Mariah Frank and Alison Parker all have the potential to make large contributions this season. "The women's team is on the rise and the freshman and sophomore classes are all pretty good runners. This should be a group contending for a top-10 finish at regionals."
The men's squad loses four of its top seven runners from a year ago, including Connor Callahan and Jack Hackett, each of whom led the Golden Eagles at three meets in 2012.
"This year's team will look different from what it has in the past and I think we all know that and are excited about it," Nelson said. "We definitely lost a lot of big guns from last year, some guys who have been major contributors for our program for several years. We are losing some stability at the top but we have made some room for new guys to come along and show what they are able to do. I think that is exciting for guys on the team right now because they know that it is time for them to step up."
Not all of the experienced men's runners departed though. Redshirt senior Jack Senefeld returns for his fifth season in the program and will be a team captain for a second-consecutive year. Senefeld has fought through injuries throughout his career, but has been healthy enough at each of the last two BIG EAST meets and NCAA Great Lakes Regionals to place in MU's top three.
Senefeld is joined as a team captain by Spencer Agnew, another fifth-year runner, who is hoping to run in his first NCAA regional after making a pair of appearances at the BIG EAST Championships during his career. The Fort Atkinson, Wis., native suffered an injury during the 2012 track and field season in the steeplechase, which followed him into last cross country campaign.
"Jack Senefeld and Spencer Agnew will provide great leadership for our men's group," said Nelson. "Jack has gotten to the point after some injuries and some ups and downs that he knows when to push and when to back off. Spencer is the same way. They have been through a lot together and aren't going to get stressed about the little things. Having their leadership is going to be very valuable."
Outside of the men's team captains, a group of sophomores are expected to bolster the lineup where the losses of last year's seniors may be felt most. Cody Haberkorn and William Hennessy each ran in the top seven last season, even running at the very top of the lineup early in the year.
"Cody Haberkorn made major contributions for us last year and finished as high as second at the National Catholic meet and we expect him to be at the top for us again," Nelson stated. "William Hennessy was in our top five last year and scored for us at the conference meet. He has been training well after good track seasons and should be one of our top runners."
Another sophomore who could play a large role is Andres Tineo-Paz, a native of Caracas, Venezuela who grew up in Racine and suffered through his own injuries in 2012.
Senior Mitch Lacy and redshirt sophomore David Sajdak each made an appearance in MU's top seven last season and should be in the mix along with a group of freshmen, potentially led by Nate Gomoll who had the fastest mile PR in high school.
"We will have a large cluster of guys within 15 seconds of each other," Nelson said. "There will be some pack running as a large group from possibly fifth to 15th will be very, very close. That is exciting to have that kind of depth. From one week to the next we will see that changing."
Both the Marquette men's and women's teams kick off the 2013 season on Friday, Sept. 6 at the Badger Season Opener in Verona, Wis., at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course.