Returning all but one runner from 2009, Fort Hays State University cross country coach Jason McCullough said he has high aspirations for his squads heading into the 2010 season.
The men’s and women’s squads were each ranked fifth in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association preseason poll, but McCullough said a top three finish for either team is not outside of the realm of possibility.
“I think we are going to surprise some people come conference time, especially since we get to host it this year,” McCullough said.
The men’s team returns its core of runners from last year, including six seniors and three juniors.
“This team has kind of grown up together for the past two or three years, so they are on the same page,” McCullough said. “They have the same goals and the same work ethic. I think they all have together stepped up and tried to up their game a little bit.”
Junior Jared Shillington said this team has trained hard since last year’s seventh-place finish at the conference championships.
“I know a lot of us have been disappointed with the past and how things turned out at conference,” Shillington said. “We all wanted to step up and improve our placings as a team. In order to do that, we knew we had to put in the mileage and the workouts that other teams were doing over the summer and really busting it in order to get a big mileage base.”
Though it is early, Shillington said he was pleased with the team’s overall conditioning heading into the first practice.
“I’ve talked to quite a few of the guys on the team, and it seems like they have been running pretty consistently throughout the summer compared to other years where maybe it was not so consistent,” Shillington said.
One of the question marks for the men’s squad is the availability of senior Cole Ginther. Ginther has battled injury problems throughout his tenure at Fort Hays and is nursing a knee injury heading into the 2010 season.
McCullough said Ginther should be training again in the next couple of weeks, and if Ginther is healthy and prepared by the end of the season, it will be an added bonus to an already experienced roster.
The women lost Ali Mishler to graduation but returns the rest of the team’s top five.
With the addition of junior Gipsy Bird coming off a medical redshirt, a pair of junior college transfers and eight incoming freshmen, McCullough said he believes this squad is as strong as it was at the end of last season.
“We are at least where we left off last year,” McCullough said. “I think we are going to be improved from last year.”
Reith said he sees the similarity from the women’s squad of this year to the men’s squad of last year, which had multiple junior college transfers and a freshman help score points down the stretch.
“I think the girls’ team is going to be just as good as the guys team,” Reith said. “I don’t want to get big headed now. I still think we have a lot of work ahead of us right now.”
The Tigers’ first action will be their Alumni Run on Sept. 4 starting along Big Creek southeast of Gross Memorial Coliseum.