The Seattle University cross country team left Thursday morning to finalize its preparations for the 2011 Great West Conference Cross Country Championships, to take place Saturday, Oct. 29.
The top seven Seattle U finishers from the Beaver Classic earned their tickets to North Dakota, leaving head coach Trisha Steidl with a good mix of experience and youth on the women's side, while the men's squad will include several runners who have been with the program but are gaining their first experience at a conference championship meet.
"I think they (the women) all have enough experience, and the freshmen will have good people around them to tell them what to expect, so we have a good mix of experience and young people who are tenacious and excited for this race," Steidl said. "The guys are a completely inexperienced group, but I know that they have the determination for this, and they want to finish out our tenure in the Great West by being second again."
Hannah Mittelstaedt (Maple Valley, Wash.), a two-time Great West Female Runner of the Week, will look to finish high enough for all-conference honors, something that Steidl believes is very possible. Junior Jennifer Stolle (Seattle, Wash.) has returned after missing the 2010 cross country season because she was studying abroad, and senior Sarah Bolce (Sacramento, Calif.) hopes to conclude her collegiate cross country career with a solid result.
Lauren Hammerle (Seattle, Wash.) has recovered from an injury suffered over the summer to land in the top seven for the third straight season, while freshmen Sophie Curatilo (Honolulu, Hawaii) and Meghan Arigo (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) will get their first taste of conference competition. Senior Ashley Dalton (Bellingham, Wash.) has worked hard to make her way back into the top seven and go back to the conference championships.
"I think we can be very competitive with the other women's teams. If we have our best day, there is a chance for second place. My original goal was for fourth place, but if they race like they did last weekend, then third or second is a definite possibility. I still cannot get over how great they looked as a team last weekend. Every single person had a fire and a spark in their eyes, and they showed heart and determination, which I have never seen before from the whole team. If they get excited enough and bring last weekend's attitude into this race, then they are going to be very successful," said Steidl.
Without redshirting runners Erik Barkhaus (Whitefish Bay, Wis.) and Matthew McClement (Bellingham, Wash.), the Redhawk men will look to junior Kelton Sears (Maple Valley, Wash.) and sophomore Jeff Baklund (Auburn, Wash.) for guidance, as those are the only two members of the team who have competed in past conference meets. Sears finished eighth at last year's Great West Championships and received Male Runner of the Week honors earlier this season, while Baklund has needed to work hard to stay in the top seven because of both returning runners who have improved and freshmen who have made an immediate impact.
Ryan Dennison (Pacifica, Calif.) is the other junior to reach the conference championships, while Graham Kinzel-Grubbs (Portland, Ore.) and Peter VanNuland (Newcastle, Wash.) represent the class of runners brought in last season to improve the team's overall depth. Freshmen Collin Overbay (Spokane, Wash.) and Miles Hille (Woodinville, Wash.) have stepped up and taken spots that needed to be filled, giving Steidl hope that the team can finish at least second for the third straight year.
"I hope that they (the men) are motivated to take care of every little thing that they have control over so that they are feeling the best they can on Saturday both physically and mentally," Steidl said. "These guys have fire, and they have good speed. Second place is possible, but it is going to be really tough. They need to be on, they need to be ready, and they need to be prepared. They have to be willing to dig deeper than ever before and to run a smart race."
Like most cross country meets run on golf courses, Saturday's race will be relatively flat. Seattle U made the trip to North Dakota at the start of the 2010 season knowing that this race was already scheduled, but only five of the 14 Redhawks competing in Saturday's championships ran in last year's Ron Pynn Classic (Sears, Baklund, Mittelstaedt, Hammerle, Dalton). Steidl adjusted the workout schedule throughout this season to account for the intricacies of the course.
"The course is very flat and very fast, but has quite a few turns. However, we have been practicing turns in practice. We changed up our Tuesday workouts so we can simulate those turns. So I think we are prepared for that. The footing will be a lot better than anything we have experienced so far this season, so I expect some fast times," said Steidl.
In the preseason coaches' poll, the Seattle U men were picked to finish second, while the women were selected to finish fourth. Utah Valley is the favorite to once again win both the men's and women's conference titles, but the Redhawks expect to see competition from host school North Dakota as well as Texas-Pan American and Houston Baptist in both races.
The Great West Conference Cross Country Championships will take place at Ray Richards Golf Course in Grand Forks, N.D., Saturday, Oct. 29, beginning at 11:30 a.m. local time (9:30 a.m. Pacific Time). Results will be posted on GoSeattleU.com as soon as they are available.