Lofty expectations are in place for the men’s and women’s cross- country teams this season as they finished second and seventh respectively in the last year’s championship.
The men’s team is projected to finish first in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. The team’s combined efforts will be enough to place high in the MVC, but it will most likely involve consistent excellence from runners Zach Dahleen, Brian Dixon, and Cole Allison.
Last year, sophomore runner Nick Schrader’s average finish was 14.3, and junior Lucas Cherry ended the season with two top-10 finishes.
The team is also excited to see results from redshirted freshman Oscar Medina. Medina was an all-state runner for four years at Lake View High School in Chicago.
Coach Matt Sparks said he is highly confident in the way his teams will preform this year.
“We lost very few people this season, meaning we still have a lot of key players on the team,” Sparks said.
Dahleen, who will be a junior this year and was third overall finisher in the MVC last season, said he looks forward to the season’s imposed challenges.
“This year we are aiming to win the conference and to have as many players as possible make all region,” he said.
Dahleen said he thinks the lack of seniors is an advantage and not a hindrance. The core group of juniors will provide the team with the experience and leadership that is required to be successful, he said. With the young talent the team already possesses, progressive improvement is already evident.
However, personal achievement is something team members hope to avoid, Dahleen said.
“It’s about team victories … Individual stuff is just not as important,” Dahleen said.
The women’s team hopes to have a strong rebound from last year’s seventh place finish. Led by juniors Alyssa Allison and Eileen Schweiss, the team is poised for a turnaround in 2012.
“We had a really big group of freshmen last year,” Schweiss said. “Now that they have more experience … we should be able to take off and have a really big season this year.”
Lacey Gibson is one of those accomplished runners who excelled in a large class of freshmen for the women’s cross-country team. Gibson competed in each of the seven meets in the Salukis’ last season, and she placed within the top 20 five times.
Although the juniors of the women’s team will also produce most of the leadership, the underclassmen will also be expected to perform well, Schweiss said.
“We are all on such an even level right now that none of us are really sure who’s going to be in the top spots,” Schweiss said. “We are all so good, and we are all going to be fighting for spots on the conference team.”
The cross-country teams begin their seasons at the Saluki Early Bird meet at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at the SIU Track and Field Complex.