Bulldogs Crack “Top 30” In Men’s Cross Country

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Head coach Matt Roe expects Butler to have a successful cross country season this fall, and the voters on the preseason national rankings apparently agree with him.  Butler’s men are ranked 20th in the U. S. Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Preseason Division I Cross Country Rankings released this week.

The Bulldogs, who will compete at the Indiana Intercollegiate Meet in Terre Haute on Friday (Sept. 18), also are gathering considerable respect in the regional rankings.  The Butler men are the top-ranked team in Indiana and second overall to Wisconsin in the Great Lakes Region rankings, while Butler’s women are ranked 13th in the region.  Butler is one of four schools in Indiana to have both its men’ and women’s teams ranked in the Great Lakes Region.

Roe is not surprised by the lofty recognition of Butler’s men, with the return of six athletes who competed in the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship a year ago.

“We’re older, stronger and have more experience this year,” noted the Butler coach, who’s beginning his third season at the helm of the Bulldogs.  “We’re in a much stronger position this year, than a year ago.  Our goal is get back to nationals and be competitive.”

One Butler runner who has been very competitive at the national meet is senior Andy Baker.  He’s a two-time cross country All-American, a two-time Horizon League champion and a two-time Horizon League Cross Country Athlete of the Year.  He placed 40th at the 2008 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship, after coming 28th at the national meet a year earlier.

“He’s our leader, not only by being our top runner, but also by example.  He’s an Academic All-American, and he’s one of the top runners in the country,” stated Roe.  “Andy is a very driven individual and a very high achiever.  And one of the things that’s going to help him this year is the depth of our team.  It helps us have better training on a daily basis.”

Joining Baker from last year’s NCAA squad are seniors Rob Mullett, Kris Gauson and Tom Boardman and juniors Justin Roeder and Madison Roeder.  Mullett was runner-up to Baker at the Horizon League Championship last year, while Boardman placed third in the league, Gauson finished fourth, Justin Roeder came in fifth and Madison Roeder placed 11th.  All five earned All-League honors.

Roe also can call on seniors, Steve Lisgo and Joe MacDonald, both NCAA track qualifiers last spring.  Lisgo, the 2009 Horizon League Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year, wound up earning All-American honors with a third-place finish in the men’s 3,000 meter steeplechase at the national meet.  MacDonald qualified for nationals in the men’s 5,000, and he placed 25th in the event.  Gauson, the 2009 Horizon League Indoor Track Athlete of the Year, also competed at nationals in the men’s 1,500 meters.

Other returnees from last year squad, which captured an 11th consecutive Horizon League title, are senior Taylor Eaton, junior Matt Lawder and sophomore Orion Wenrich.  Eaton and Lawder both placed among the “Top 25” individuals at the 2008 Horizon League Cross Country Championship.

Adding strength to the men’s team will be three newcomers, freshmen Kevin Oblinger, Derek Groves and Craig Jordan.

The Butler women’s team is surrounded by more question marks, but Roe is excited about the team’s potential.

“We’re really young, but we have some really good young talent,” said the Butler coach.  “Our overall talent level is completely different from a year ago.  Our biggest challenge may be inexperience, at least early in the season.”

Roe does have his top six runners back from last year’s team, which placed third at the Horizon League Championship.  Leading that group is junior Marbeth Shiell, who earned first team All-League honors with a fourth place finish at the league meet.  She’s joined by seniors Sara Bird and Whitney Turner, junior Mary Andorfer and sophomores Lauren Haberkorn and Bonnie Kaminsky.

Senior Ashley Dick, junior Erica Hunt and sophomore Sarah Hawkins also were members of last year’s team, though the three did not compete at the league championship.

“We were pretty much depleted heading into last season, but the team did a great job of training and getting better,” added Roe.  “This year’s team will have much greater depth, and I think that will help us to be more competitive.”

Roe added 11 newcomers to this year’s squad, junior Rosie Edwards and 10 freshmen - Katie Clark, Lauren McKillop, Kristi Legg, Shelbi Burnette, Nicole Humphrey, Callie Klatt, Kaitlyn Love, Kelsey Neal, Karleen Ritchie and Carly Solbolewski.  Several of the newcomers, including Clark, Legg and McKillop, could have an immediate impact on Butler’s success in 2009.  Clark was ranked 11th in the United Kingdom in the women’s 5,000 in 2008, while Legg was ranked sixth in the U.K. in the women’s U20 1,500 meters.  McKillop placed fifth at the Australia World Junior Cross Country Trials in 2009.

“It’s exciting to have the kind of talent that we have in our freshmen group,” stated Roe.  “As they have a chance to adjust to college life and our training, I think they’re going to be a special group.” 

“This team has a chance to be very good,” added the Butler coach.

Butler’s first big test of the season will come at this weekend’s Indiana Intercollegiate Meet, which will be held on the same course that will host the NCAA Division I Championship in November.  The women’s 5K race is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. (ET) and will be followed by the men’s 8K race at 5:15 p.m. (ET).