Cross-country to prove they belong

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Photo courtesy of Marquette Images

With training distances totaling around 60 to 90 miles a week, the men’s cross-country team prepares with a determination to be the best. But for senior captain and race leader Blake Johnson, coach Mike Nelson wants to take training to the next level.

“Starting in junior year track, I began to push him more in workouts and make them longer,” Nelson said.  “This summer I continued to increase his mileage, and I believe it will really pay off during the season.”

Johnson agrees and said he expects even more from himself.

“I have to mentally prepare for the race,” he said. “Visually, I imagine myself getting out to the front and not playing catch up.  Get out the elbows, make sure you show them you belong.”

With three of five runners from Marquette’s eighth-place finish at the Big East Championship tournament returning, expectations have increased.  According to Nelson, the pressure is on to not only show that they belong but that Marquette has arrived to compete.

“They’ve had a great summer of training,” Nelson said. “I am confident, but we are no longer a young, developing team – the time is now.”

A key ingredient in the team’s immediate performance this season will be sophomore Jack Senefeld.  Already a force in his first year, Senefeld’s season highlights included a freshman record and the seventh-fastest time in school history (2:28.98) in the 1,000-meter run at the Meyo Invitational on Feb. 6.  This season, he is setting his goals even higher.

“I would like to improve individually,” Senefeld said.  “I hope to break into the top 25 in the Big East, along with keeping healthy for the regional line.”

The team has steered clear of the injury bug so far, although they have been nervous about over-running.  According to Nelson, the men put in early runs and organized team activities to stay in shape during downtime in training.  He has been impressed by the team’s leadership.

“It makes you feel good as a coach when you come in and see the men working to be the best they can be,” Nelson said.

Johnson, a former football player who only began cross-country after junior year in high school, believes that his role is to lead by example.

“I am a competitor who’s done his best, and people have taken notice,” Johnson said.  “I am going to go out there and do things right and try to have a great year.

Senefeld said he thinks his experiences last season have helped him become a voice on the team, and that he can work alongside Johnson.

“I try to be a vocal leader of the team,” Senefeld said.  “We have strong examples, but I believe we need someone with a voice, and I have risen to that role.”

Off the trail, he is quite proud of the team’s academic performance, as both the Marquette men’s and women’s cross-country teams earned 2010 NCAA Division I All-Academic Cross-Country status.

And if Senefeld has his way, next year will be even better.

“I hope to improve on that,” he said.  “We must keep that tradition going. It reflects so well on us and Marquette in general.”

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