SEASON OUTLOOK: Cross Country Looks to Turn Tide after Rebuilding Season

Filled with youth and new faces, the EWU cross country teams enter the 2013 season with an underdog mentality

Eager for a potential bounce-back season, the youthful Eastern Washington University men's and women's cross country teams open the 2013 season Saturday (Aug. 31) at the Clash of the Inland Northwest in Spokane, Wash.

Head coach Chris Zeller believes this year’s team has some of the best depth and raw talent the program has seen in years as the Eagles took the sacrifice of redshirting multiple key athletes last year in order to stack the roster for the upcoming season.

“After having a chance at seeing the summer workouts people have put in, I’m definitely excited about both the men and women,” said Zeller. “We’re looking at each of one of these races coming up as a stepping stone to what they want to accomplish.”

Zeller will get his first glimpse of what his new-look squad will bring to the table this weekend. The meet will be held at Mead High School, with the action set to begin at 10 a.m.

In a vote of the Big Sky Cross Country coaches, the men’s team was voted to finish eighth and the women were picked to place 10th. The men received 44 points in voting while the women received 27. The Northern Arizona men and the Weber State women have been chosen as the favorites for the Big Sky titles, with the Lumberjack men receiving all 11 first-place-votes and the Wildcat women getting nine of the 11.

“I’d much rather be under the radar at this point in the season and be able to finish higher,” said Zeller. “If anything, it gives the team a little more motivation and we know we’re much than the ranking indicates.”

Eastern will compete in five meets prior to the postseason, including a trip to South Bend, Ind., for the Notre Dame Invite on Oct. 4.

The 2013 Big Sky Cross Country Championships will be hosted by Montana State University and held at Bridger Creek Golf Course Nov. 2 in Bozeman, Mont. The Eagle men were ninth and the women were 11th at last year’s BSC Championships in Flagstaff, Ariz. 

Men’s Season Outlook

For the men, Eastern brings in several returners and newcomers that Zeller believes will form a strong pack. Senior Simon Sorensen, junior Chris Schroll and sophomore captain Vince Hamilton will each be back in the red and white after redshirting last season. Schroll and Hamilton both will be competing in their first cross country season for the Eagles.

In Sorensen’s most recent cross country season, he was the top finisher for the Eagles as he placed 19th at the 2011 Big Sky Championships in a time of 26:20.59. He had three other top 25 finishes during that season as well.

In track and field, Hamilton scored points for the Eagles at each of the BSC Championship meets last year; including a fifth-place finish in the 10,000 outdoors and an eighth-place finish in the 5,000 indoors. He ran the fourth-fastest 5,000 in school history indoors with a 14:24.52 clocking.

“Vince is looking great right now,” said Zeller. “He’s ready to roll and has a huge base going in. Now we just have to give him some sharpening tools.”

Schroll also broke into the Eastern top ten list in the 5,000 indoors, running a time of 14:55.10 at the UW Invitational.

Hoping to build off a strong freshman season is David Thor, who was the top runner for the team in each meet. He was 25th at the Big Sky Championships, running a time of 26:35.5 on the 8,000-meter course. The sophomore out of Bishop Carroll High School placed in the top 25 in five of the six meets he competed in.

Also returning is junior Quin Olivas, who placed 67th at last year’s conference meet and was third for the Eagles.

EWU will have seven new faces to the team this season including two transfers and five freshmen.

Transferring from Big Sky opponent Sacramento State is senior Steven Kutsch, who graduated from nearby Mead High School in 2009. He helped the Mead Panthers to two cross country state titles and one track and field state title in his time there. Kutsch has competed in two BSC Cross Country Championships, with his best finish of 36th coming at the 2011 meet at Idaho State.

Also joining the squad is junior Dakota Parker, who transferred from Boise State and attended WF West High School in Chehalis, Wash. In high school, he had three top-20 finishes at the WIAA 2A State Cross Country Championships, including a second-place-finish in 2009.

Last but not least, five freshmen will suit up for Eastern including Austen Frostad, Alex Kimsey, Isaac Kitzan, Austin Oser and Nik Taylor.

Frostad, Kitzan and Taylor – as well as Hamilton - each hail from nearby distance powerhouse North Central High School. The Indians have claimed the team title at the last seven WIAA 3A State Cross Country Championships. In 2011, Frostad finished 19th overall at the state meet in a time of 16:01.9. At the 2012 state meet, Kitzan was 12th (15:50.7) and Taylor was 18th (16:01.3).

“I think Isaac will definitely do some great things at the collegiate level,” said Zeller. “The longer distances are really up his alley and I think he’ll be a key contributor this season.”

Kimsey was a four-time competitor at the WIAA 4A State Championships, including two top-ten finishes as he was ninth in 2011 (15:35.2) and fifth in 2010 (15:37.6).

Oser finished 10th at the 2012 3A state meet with his personal-best 5,000 time of 15:49.6.

 Women’s Season Outlook

The women’s side shows lots of youth and promise with no seniors on the roster and only one letterwinner lost. Looking to lead the way for Eastern is sophomore Katie Mahoney, who redshirted the most recent cross country season. Mahoney erupted in her first outdoor track season, crushing the school record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (10:21.53) and also claiming a school record in the 1.500 (4:25.79). She was 36th at the 2011 BSC Cross Country Championships.

“Katie is going to be a true front runner,” said Zeller. “She is really fit right now after putting in a monster summer.”

Also looking to make strong contributions is team captain Berenice Penaloza, who was the top runner for the Eagles in each meet as a redshirt freshman last season. Penaloza was 29th at the 2012 conference meet, running a time of 18:39.2. She claimed two Eastern all-time marks during the track season, including the fourth-fastest time in the 5,000 indoors (17:52.41) and the sixth-best time in the 10,000 outdoors (37:29.84)

Other returners for the women include Monica Jaenicke, Danie Moon, and Acacia Smith, who have combined to win five letters for the team. Lauren Brewington, Amber Core and Brittney Swanson will also add experience.

The newcomers are highlighted by three transfers in Catie Arrigoni, Mayra Chavez and Sarah Reiter. Arrigoni placed seventh at the NWAACC Cross Country Championships for Everett CC in a time of 19:02.95. She also ran her personal best in the 3,000 steeplechase during the outdoor track season with a time of 10:59.70, which would rank second in school history at Eastern.

Chavez, an Eisenhower High School graduate, will join her former teammate Penaloza after transferring from New Mexico State. She competed in six meets for the Aggies, including a 46th-place-finish at the WAC Championships. 

“We have a really nice pack at the No. 2-4 runners with Berenice, Mayra and Catie,” said Zeller. “Those three have been right together during workouts this past week.”

Reiter competed for Big Sky rival Montana State last year, with her best time of the cross country season coming at the Montana Invitational (19:15). She was a state champion in cross country at the 2A level during the 2010 season.

Eight freshmen will round out the roster for Eastern including Michaela Chucka, Keeley Davidson, Kendall Elifrits, Paula Gil-Echevarria, Rachael Hatcher, Katie Lynch, Kari Scharnhorst and Chelsea Taylor.

Gil-Echevarria competed overseas in Spain, where she had personal bests in the 800 (2:13.80) and the 1,500 (4:41.42) in track.

Lynch was 22nd at the 2011 WIAA 3A state meet, running a time of 19:18.9 on the 5,000-meter course.

2013 Big Sky Cross Country Preseason Coaches' Poll

Men's Results

Place

School

Points

1.

Northern Arizona

121 (11)

2.

Southern Utah

100

3.

Weber State

99

4.

Montana State

97

5.

Sacramento State

65

6.

Montana

62

7.

Idaho State

56

8.

Eastern Washington

44

9.

North Dakota

40

10.

Northern Colorado

22

11.

Portland State

20

 

Women's Results

Place

School

Points

1.

Weber State

118 (9)

2.

Northern Arizona

108 (1)

3.

Southern Utah

97 (1)

4.

Montana State

84

5.

Idaho State

64


Sacramento State

64

7.

Northern Colorado

60

8.

North Dakota

42

9.

Montana 

35

10.

Eastern Washington

27


Portland State

27

 
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