Cross country teams aim to blend youth and experience

Senior Olivia Johnson finished in first place (14 minutes, 20 seconds) in the Badger Classic at Thomas Zimmer Cross-Country Course in Madison, Wis., on Friday.

Johnson edged Northwestern’s Sophia Ewald by .5 seconds to take the event and give the Marquette women’s team a second place overall finish.

“She had a great race and was in control the whole way,” coach Mike Nelson said of Johnson. “The rest of the women’s team packed up pretty well towards the end.”

Sophomore Carly Windt finished second for the team and tenth overall with juniors Courtney Kelly, Bekki Misanin, and freshman Sarah Ball all placing in the top-21.

Senior Brice Cleland’s sixth place finish (25 minutes, 26 seconds) led the men’s team.  Junior Blake Johnson, sophomore Jack Senefeld, senior Nick Szczech and junior Peter Bolgert were right behind Cleland placing seventh through 10th, respectively, to match the women’s second place finish.

The meet results bode well for the rest of the season, as this hopes to be a year for enhancement after a middle of the road finish to last year’s season for both teams.

The men and women’s teams both hope to improve this year but look to do so through different strategies, focusing on their team’s specific strengths and weaknesses.

The men’s team finished seventh in the Big East Championships last season as Cleland placed 37th as Marquette’s lead runner. The strength of this year’s team will be in its experience and depth as each member of last year’s squad returns with the addition of some new faces.

The trio of Cleland, Johnson and Szczech will look to pace the Golden Eagles this year along with a strong supporting cast for a squad that enters the season ranked No. 12 in the Great Lakes Region. Juniors Keith Schueller and Patrick Keeley add some experience and look to continue their development this year.

Talented younger runners including sophomore Connor Callahan, sophomore Jack Senefeld and freshman Bob Guthrie will round out the team. Callahan came on strong last year.  He was the third Golden Eagle across the finish line in the Great Lakes Regional.

The women’s team faces a very different path to the top of the Big East. After an eighth place finish in the Big East Championships last year, the Golden Eagles return without Jayne Grebsinki, Anna Weber and Amanda Beggs, three of their top performers in 2009.

Their departure dramatically shook up the roster but new leadership has already risen to the occasion in the form of senior captains Olivia Johnson, Laurie Dalrymple and Kristin Pelzel.

Johnson’s breakthrough performance in the Badger Classic helped cement her status as one of the team’s top finishers. Youth has also showed up in a big way for the women’s team with the strong showings of Windt, Kelly and Ball.

Change will indeed be a recurring theme for the team but with that change comes the chance for new talent to shine.

“Both of the teams have very good depth,” Nelson said in regards to his team’s strengths. “We also have good front running on both sides with Olivia on the women’s and Brice, Blake and Nick on the men’s.”