Bearcat Cross Country Men Primed to Make Run Into GLVC CompetitionMonday, September 10 2012
(LEBANON, Ill., Aug. 27)—McKendree University men's cross country coach Neal West will have plenty of weapons at his disposal when the Bearcats open their 2012 season Saturday at the Washington University Early Bird Meet in St. Louis.
In addition to the return of McKendree's top runner from last season, the Bearcats will regain the services of six top runners who sat out the 2011 as redshirts. Combine that with another key newcomer who joined the program in the spring, and West is optimistic for a successful year as the Bearcats enter their first season as members of the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
“There is a lot of depth on this squad,” said West. “Six of our top eight runners were redshirts in 2011. I really like the talent level and the potential that this squad brings to the table.”
Senior Colin Voss (Breese, IL/Breese Central) turned in the best finish for McKendree in all five of the Bearcats' events last season. Voss was 27th at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy Fall Classic.
“Colin had a great year for us,” said West. “He will blend well with the returning crop of runners and should be a factor for us again.”
The junior duo of Blake DeLong (Hillsboro, IL/Hillsboro) and Elkana Kipsang (Eldoret, Kenya/Legebet) top the list of runners who return after sitting out the 2011 season as a redshirt. DeLong earned the final NAIA All-America honors for McKendree in cross country after finishing 26th in the 2010 NAIA championship meet. Kipsang narrowly missed All-America accolades with a 31st-place showing the NAIA meet, while posting an individual championship at the Washington University meet two years ago. Both DeLong and Kipsang were All-Conference runners in the American Midwest Conference in 2010.
“Blake and Elkana are really solid performers,” said West. “I believe that both of them will be competitive in the GLVC. Both are juniors and their talent and experience levels will help them as we transition into the new conference.”
Seniors Darren Hooks (Alhambra, IL/Highland) and Travis Lavin (Centralia, IL/Centralia) also return to provide depth and experience. Hooks is a former AMC Freshman of the Year, when he finished seventh at the 2008 conference meet. Sophomore Ryan Todd (Jerseyville, IL/Jersey Community) is back after sitting out the 2011 season as a redshirt. Freshman Erick Korir (Eldoret, Kenya/Segero) – the brother of Elkana Kipsang (Eldoret, Kenya/Legebet) – did not race last year but is expected to contribute as well.
There is plenty of talent back from last year's squad as well, including sophomores Jake Schmittling (Mascoutah, IL/Mascoutah) and Erick Requadt (Jerseyville, IL/Jersey Community).
Rounding out the roster are a pair of newcomers in freshmen Moses Randich (Eldoret, Kenya/Cheblemit) and Dylan Hartley (Benton, IL/Benton). Randich was a part of the Bearcats' program in the spring, while Hartley was an All-State runner during his career at Benton High School.
West is quick to point out that while the Bearcats boast a wealth of returning and incoming talent, it will be hard for McKendree to crack the upper ranks of the GLVC, at least during this initial run in the league.
“I believe we will be very competitive this year,” said West. “But there are a lot of class programs in the GLVC who have been at the top of their game for several years. USI (the University of Southern Indiana) is always a top-10 program in NCAA Division II, and (the University of) Wisconsin-Parkside is very solid also. At the end of the day, we want to be at our best and be competitive, and I think we will be.”
West crafted the 2012 schedule to challenge the Bearcats throughout the season and, in turn, prepare them for the GLVC Championship Meet on Oct. 20 in Springfield, Mo. After opening the year in St. Louis, McKendree will get to preview the GLVC championship course when it competes in the Richard Clark Challenge in Springfield, Mo., on Sept. 15.
Two weeks later, the Bearcats return to a familiar course at the Greater Louisville Classic which has hosted multiple national championships both at the NCAA and NAIA level. On Oct. 6, McKendree runs on another championship-quality course at the Rose-Hulman Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind. The Bearcats will then have two weeks to prepare for the GLVC meet.
“This year will be a very good measuring stick for our program,” said West. “For our men, this may be the most experienced and competitive squad that we've ever had. This year, we'll find out where we are as a program.”