While Marquette’s cross-country squad finished short of its goal of placing in the top 15 teams at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional in 2011 with a 17th place finish, this year’s team will have a similar goal and will be led by seniors Melissa Budelier and Christina Sliepka.
Sliepka was among the faster runners for the women’s team in 2011. After running 40 to 60 miles per week over the summer, she is in good shape to stay at the front of the pack when the team lines up for its first meet at the NIU Huskie Invitational on Sept. 7.
As a junior, Sliepka managed to to stay in the team’s top five at all seven of its meets.
Budelier’s improvement over the years shows she is one of the hardest workers on the team. She arrived at Marquette in 2009 and ran a 5K — 3.1 miles — time of 21:08.9 and dropped it to 19.14.6 as a junior.
“Her improvement rate has been outstanding,” coach Mike Nelson said. “She has improved leaps and bounds.”
Both captains may have a lot to manage as leaders of the team, but in the classroom they are both in the process of applying to medical school.
The seniors made their season debut at the Alumni Run on Aug. 25 with Budelier finishing 10th and Sliepka right behind her in 11th.
With only a handful of practices with the team, the freshmen showed off their fitness after their summer workouts by having three freshmen in the team’s top five. The seniors have no issues with letting the underclassmen contribute to the team right away.
“You don’t want that mentality from them thinking they can’t be as good as us, because they can be,” Sliepka said. “You want to encourage that, because there’s no reason why they can’t run with us.”
The Alumni Run was only two miles, much shorter than the 5,000-meter and the 8,000-meter races coming up in the long season ahead. Budelier looked at the race as a tune-up and assessment after the summer.
“It is a good starting point even though it’s not the same distances that we will be racing,” Budelier said. “It’s good to see where we’re at now, but that’s all it really is.”
The juniors fared well in the race, and Nelson feels they are doing a good job of moving right up in the ranks and filling in for last year’s class.
“I’ve really been impressed with the improvements of the junior class,” Nelson said. “All of them have moved up whether it’s 10 seconds faster or 20 seconds faster, they have all made improvements. I feel very good about their development.”
From that class, Sarah Ball ran the fastest time at the 2011 Alumni Run with a time of 11:24. This year as juniors, the fastest time for their class was Holly Robertson with a time of 11:17. Four of the five members of that class started off 2012 with a faster start.
At the moment, the team is looking very healthy with 14 of its 15 members running. Nelson reminds the team that at meets, sometimes it is not about which team has the fastest runners, but which can line up the most healthy ones.
“If you line up seven healthy girls or guys, you’re automatically at an advantage. That’s a hard thing to do.” Nelson said. “That’s one of our main goals throughout the year is to stay healthy, progress and get to that regional meet healthy and full of fight.”
As the Golden Eagles head into the season, they are in for several weeks of competition and challenging themselves, whether it is in workouts or at a championship meet.