Marquette Cross-Country: Johnson claims top spot at Crusader Open

With one kilometer left in Valparaiso’s Crusader Open, a Marquette coach informed senior captain Blake Johnson that he had a sizable lead on the competition and could cruise into the finish line.  With the win, Johnson garnered both his first competitive race victory and started the men’s season off to a perfect start.

“Not many people have a chance to go out and win a cross-country meet,” Johnson said.  “I felt that I had a chance to be toward the front, but I didn’t want to go out too fast. I am still appreciative and I am lucky that I got the win.”

Behind Johnson, the men’s team dominated the field with seven runners placing within the race’s top 10.  Johnson and fellow senior captain Peter Bolgert held the top two spots with times of 15:26.3 and 15:38.9, respectively. Junior Patrick Maag was the fourth place finisher in 15:53.4, and Jack Senefeld, Chris Spudic, Spencer Agnew and Connor Callahan rounded out the top 10.

This performance may have surprised the runners but was expected by coach Mike Nelson.

“Overall the meet went well. There wasn’t a whole lot of competition on the men’s side,” Nelson said.  “We’re just trying to get better; it’s a good race to shake the rust off.”

On the women’s side, freshman Kenzie Vicker led the team with her 13th place finish (19:11.1), while sophomore Hannah Frett and juniors Christina Sliepka and Jessa Hackman finished 14th, 15th and 16th, respectively.

However, Nelson believes that the women had the ability to perform better.

“This meet was a bit of an anomaly because we will never run again with 96 degree (heat) and 91 percent humidity,” Nelson said.  “But tactically, we need to work on running a bit smarter and running all the way through the end.

“[The women’s team] went out way too hard.  With the heat and going out too fast, we’re talking about a double-whammy,” Nelson said. “In that weather, if your tactics are a little off, or if you’re not hydrated going in to the race, things will go wrong. And if things went wrong, they went really wrong.”

Yet ignorance was bliss for Vicker, who was impressive during her first collegiate meet.  Even with the extreme weather conditions and competitive teams from Western Michigan and Northwetern, she was able to focus and produce quality race.

“I had no expectations in my first college meet,” Vicker said.  “(The pack) came out fast, and I tried to stay at a high pace. I was used to running a 4k and the heat was awful, but it was just very nice to start racing again.”

Vicker, who is only recently recovered from a muscle imbalance in her back, does not see any pressure in keeping up her blistering pace. She’s only looks to improve.

“I just want to make a full season without any injuries,” she said. “I’ll keep improving and contributing to the team.”

Nelson agrees. “Her role is going to continue as a scorer for us.  But there is no pressure on her at all. As long as she’s helping the team out, we’re happy.”