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Marquette Cross-Country: New year brings new conference, new faces

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Jack Hackett, Marquette's top runner, graduated last year.

Jack Hackett, Marquette’s top runner, graduated last year.

A new look for the Big East conference and the loss of several runners to graduation and transfers are just two components driving intrigue around the 2013 season for Marquette’s men’s and women’s cross-country teams.

Head coach Mike Nelson, now entering his seventh season at Marquette, is not only coaching the teams, but planning the Big East Championship, which will be held Nov. 2 at the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross-Country Course in Somers, Wis.

“I think one of my major goals is to finish in the top half of the conference at the Big East Championship,” Nelson said. “It’s a very good cross-country conference with some of the best programs in the country. To be in the top half initially will be a good goal and then hopefully move up from there. We want to be a top-10 team in our region.”

The Marquette men are ranked 15th in the preseason NCAA Great Lakes Regional rankings, while the women are unranked. On the national level, the Big East has No. 24 Georgetown and No. 27 Villanova, while the women’s side has No. 1 Providence (receiving 11 first-place votes after their second-place finish at last year’s NCAA Championship), No. 6 Georgetown (2012 Big East Champions), No. 12 Villanova and No. 30 Butler.

Last year’s Marquette teams saw strong performances from freshmen. Now sophomores, William Hennessy and Cody Haberkorn have matured and are expected to step up into bigger roles after placing fourth and sixth on the team at the Big East Championship in 2012.

After being the team’s top finisher at most meets, Molly Hanson decided to transfer to Wisconsin. The move opens up a chance for sophomores like Kellie Greenwood or Kayla Spencer to fill her shoes. Greenwood is recovering from a minor injury, while Spencer showed some upside as the Alumni Run winner on the women’s side.

Nelson hopes another leader emerges from a group of upperclassmen that may have struggled last year or been hurt.

“I know we’ve got the girls that can step up,” Nelson said. “Somebody like Sarah Ball had a rough year last year overall or Elisia Meyle, who started off the year our number one and then she had some injury issues. We have the bodies, it’s just they haven’t all been ready to go.”

Men’s runners Connor Callahan, A.J. Gedwill, Jack Hackett and Patrick Maag have all graduated, leaving the title of top runner up for grabs between captains Jack Senefeld and Spencer Agnew. Agnew won the Alumni Run with Senefeld just a second behind him.

“I think with both of them as one improves, the other will improve,” Nelson said. “I just see them working together all season long. You could not ask for two better captains.”

When one was healthy last year, the other was not. Senefeld began the season recovering from a summer injury, while Agnew struggled in the second half of the year. A summer of training and staying healthy now has them ready for competition.

The Golden Eagles will open their season in style with new gold uniforms at the Badger Classic in Verona, Wis. When the men’s team last competed on that course, Marquette prevented the Wisconsin Badgers from an undefeated season en route to their National Championship title in 2011.

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