NOTHING LESS THAN A TROPHY WILL DO FOR EOU
By Pat Perkins
Observer Staff Writer
It says a lot for this years Eastern Oregon University mens cross country team that it wasnt satisfied with a sixth-place finish at last years NAIA national meet.
This years team wont settle for anything less than fourth place.
They want a trophy this fall, Eastern Oregon coach Ben Welch said. They set that goal last year after nationals. They werent satisfied with sixth.
The Mountaineer men return nine runners from last years team and entered the 2001 season ranked seventh in the nation. Many of the runners stayed in La Grande and trained this summer.
Theyre hungry. Ive never had a team that came in this prepared. Theyre already the deepest talent-wise Ive ever had, Welch said.
Led by 2000 MVP Tim Riley, the Mountaineers reckon to once again be a force in the NAIAs Region I. Riley had his best summer of training ever, Welch said, as did Dallas Kinch and Pat Egelus.
Riley was Easterns No. 2 runner at nationals last year, finishing in 47th place. Kinch was No. 5, taking 93rd.
Coming on strong is sophomore Ian Schroeder, who was Easterns top runner Saturday at the season-opening Whitman Invitational. He was the fastest true freshman Ive ever had in the 10 years Ive been here, Welch said.
Easterns other returners are Ben Gall, Dave Terry, Sean Williams, Eric Griffiths and Brian Crowl. Gall, Terry and Williams ran at nationals for the Mountaineers, as did Schroeder.
Only 10 runners can compete at the Region I meet, leaving few of Easterns other runners many chances to qualify. Freshman Daniel McGourty of Wallowa cracked Easterns top 10 at Whitman, as did freshman Jordan Baumgartner.
Easterns other runners are Ivan Steadman, Neil Peterson and Tyler Rux.
Getting to nationals shouldnt be too much of a problem. The Region I meet champion gets an automatic bid, but provided Eastern races well as the season progresses and maintains a high ranking, it should at least receive one of several at-large berths.
The key thing is to race well when it counts, Welch said. Theyre not worried about score so much as performance.
Welch is restructuring the womens program this year. Two of last years top runners, Katlin Lafferty and Kelsey Jones, are redshirting this year.
With them we could probably be a top-15 team, Welch said. The Eastern women are ranked 22nd in the preseason poll. I didnt really want to burn up a season when theyre at a crucial point of figuring some things out.
Since both runners are planning on being in school for five years, the redshirt year should work out well.
The cupboard isnt bare, however. Senior Suzy Campbell is back for her final season, and Lisa Muilenburg is back after a years absence; she was 52nd at nationals two years ago.
Debra Moyer is a transfer student from North Idaho College and was Easterns top runner at the Whitman meet.
After that, however, is a combination of injuries and freshmen. Freshmen Laura Mortensen and Jenny McGladrey ran Saturday for Eastern, and freshmen twins Shelby and Ashley Zacharias would have run had they returned from Hawaii on time; they were victims of last weeks flight cancellations.
Veteran Kelsi Pelzer has been sick, Carri Jones has had a dislocated knee cap and Andrea (Fischer) Terry has had a hip problem.
We have some real questions on the womens side, Welch said. Theres a real possibility well have to redshirt one or all of them, he said about Pelzer, Jones and Terry.
An at-large berth to nationals may be possible for the Mountaineer women, but theyll need to stay in the mind of the pollsters.
We need to run well early enough so people dont write us off, Welch said.