Aug 23, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State men’s and women’s cross country teams will begin the 2013 season next week and with the success both programs saw in 2012, the Spartans are set up for an excellent campaign. With progress seen from experienced returners and newcomers alike, director of cross country/track & field Walt Drenth discusses what he expects out of the upcoming season.
“We saw progress out of a lot of people this spring and that is a good indication of if the team will do well,” said Drenth. “We’ve also had a good summer of training for both the men and the women. I think that in every instance, we’ve got the ingredients, so now it’s just coming together to see if we can keep the pieces moving forward. I’m pretty optimistic for both programs.”
The women finished second at the Big Ten Championships, led by returner Sara Kroll who took first-place individual honors at the meet. After placing second at the Great Lakes Regional Championships, the women made their 12th-straight appearance at the NCAA Championships, the longest active streak in the Big Ten Conference, where they finished 16th overall. With five returning Spartans earning All-Great Lakes Region honors, the women are primed to make a successful post-season run.
“On the women’s side, the expectation to go to nationals will be there,” Drenth said. “They’ve had a decent run and we have personnel that give us a shot to go back. Leah (O’Connor) has got to be one of the favorites going into the conference championships as she was fourth at the Big Ten. The rest of the women’s team will sort itself out with Julia (Otwell) and Sara (Kroll) returning.”
Last year, the men qualified for their first NCAA Championships since 2009 after placing fourth at the Great Lakes Regional Championship and earning an at-large bid to the national meet.
“I hope that it raised their level of expectation,” said Drenth. “I know it gave them a taste of something. I think getting to nationals is the goal. I don’t necessarily think we did well at nationals, but I think that given the fact that we’re returning all but one contributing athlete to that group and I think the young guys have stepped into some of those roles.”
Several members of the men’s team made great strides during the 2012 season, including breakout redshirt freshman Caleb Rhynard who was MSU’s top-finisher at the Big Ten Championship. Four Spartans who finished in the top-30 to earn a fourth-place team finish at the Great Lakes Regional meet return to the 2013 squad, including Alex Wilson, Rhynard, David Madrigal and Ben Miller. Together, the team will attempt to make a second-straight trip to the national meet.
“On the men’s side, Caleb Rhynard has emerged as one of the better distance runners in the conference, not only by the way he competes, but by the way he is training,” Drenth said. “He’s young, but he’s got good back from David (Madrigal), Alex (Wilson) and Ben Miller who have all seen a reasonable amount of success at the conference level. It was only a couple years ago that David was Freshman of the Year and Alex was All-Region last year.”
Drenth also has high hopes for Spartans who competed unattached last season and have waited to make an impact in scoring positions for MSU.
“Lessons come in the form of experience,” said Drenth. “We’re looking more for progress than anything else. Progress comes from learning how to race, gaining confidence and those sorts of things, but mostly from training. I thought that our spring for both genders went well. I thought we made decent progress and the signs of progress really came from people who weren’t in uniform. So I think our optimism lies in those athletes like Shelby Jackson, Rachele Schulist and Alexis Wiersma on the women’s side and Garret (Zuk), Nick (Soter) and Ryan Konen for the men. It also looks like Ryan Beyea is having a great summer and maybe in a position to step forward as well. I look forward to having Ben Carruthers back and healthy. He had kind of a tough spring. Alex Wilson had the same thing. But those guys gained experience and are having a great summer of training before we really get going.”
Michigan State’s 2013 schedule has a few additions to the slate that give the Spartans opportunity to compete against the nation’s best. In one of the most competitive cross country conferences, MSU is likely to see conference foes frequently throughout the season.
“Our schedule is as competitive as anyone’s in the country. It’s part of who we are and sets a standard of our expectations. We’ll see if it sets us up to run late. You never know, but you assess that and plan for it. Our schedule is not a great deal different than it has been in the past. We try to give everybody three or four opportunities to compete at a level that they are prepared to compete at and it gives ample room for growth for people who might come in not quite ready and can build into a spot as the season progresses. There are a lot of meets on the schedule and our goal is to see progress out a lot of people.”
The Spartans officially kick off the 2013 season as they travel to the Jeff Drenth Memorial on Friday, Aug. 30. The meet, hosted by Central Michigan, will begin with the women’s 5K race at 10 a.m. followed by the men’s 5k race at 10:45 a.m.