While the Valparaiso men’s cross country team graduated five seniors, including four of its top six runners, from last year’s squad, 14 runners return eager to maintain their improvement and help push the Crusaders towards the top of the Horizon League.
The Crusaders will be led by captain and fifth-year senior Bryan Gill. Gill competed in five races for Valpo last season, posting a career-best 8K time of 27:23.70 at the Horizon League Championships, where he was the third Crusader runner to cross the line. He also placed among Valpo’s top-five at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional as he peaked at the end of the season.
Gill will be joined by four other seniors in 2009. David Carter ran five times last year for the Crusaders, placing among Valpo’s top-five finishers twice, including a 26:37.93 8K at the Evansville Invitational which lowered his career best time by nearly 25 seconds. Matt Cervarich ran three times last season, including at the Horizon League Championships, and posted a season-best 8K time at Evansville of 28:23.59.
Chris Lechner also returns for his final season after a junior campaign in which he ran four times for Valpo, including at the league championships. Lechner posted a 32nd-place finish for the Crusaders at the Crusader Open last year. Joel Mathwig is in his second year on the Crusader roster, having competed last year at the Crusader Open and Evansville Invitational.
Valparaiso returns three juniors as well for the 2009 campaign. Chris Bednarczyk took to the course three times last year for the Crusaders, including at the league championships, while Keith Button ran twice for Valpo as a sophomore. Joel Hartenberger finished among the Crusaders’ top-five runners in five of his six meets in his second season. The junior lowered his career-best 8K to 26:21.57 at Evansville and was the third Valpo runner across the line at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, posting a time of 35:35.5.
Six runners are back for their second season as members of the Crusader cross country program. Blane Bowen competed twice for Valpo as a freshman, while Nick Fagan saw action at three meets, including the league championships. Mack Morris ran twice as well for the Crusaders in 2008.
Jordan Piaskowy took to the course for five meets with Valpo in his rookie year and debuted with a strong showing at the Crusader Open, crossing the line sixth among Crusader runners with a time of 20:46. Caleb Schmal did not see any action for the Crusaders last year, while Derek Schnake ran at two meets for Valpo in his freshman season.
Valpo also brings in six new runners for the 2009 season. Pat Johnson is in his sophomore year, while Nathan Bluhm, Kevin Bowman, Wally Bradford, Kyle Devlin and Joe Johnson are also aiming for spots among the top Crusader runners as true freshmen.
Valparaiso will open the season at home for the 16th consecutive year in one of four races to prepare for the Horizon League Championships. Now in its 21st season, the Crusader Open will be contested over the course at Sunset Hills Farm on Friday, Sept. 4 to kick off the campaign.
Two weeks later, the Crusaders will travel down to Nashville, Tenn. to run in the Commodore Classic on Saturday, Sept. 19, hosted by Vanderbilt. A shorter trip is on the docket for Friday, Oct. 2, as Valpo heads east to take part in the Notre Dame Invitational. Friday, Oct. 16 concludes the regular season, as the Crusaders cross the state line to the west to run at the Bradley Classic.
With those four races under their belts, the Crusaders will aim to peak at the Horizon League Championships, contested this year at Kensington Metropark in Milford, Mich. on Saturday, Oct. 31, hosted by Detroit. The NCAA Great Lakes Regional is slated to be run Saturday, Nov. 14 in Bloomington, Ind., and if any Crusaders qualify for the NCAA Cross Country Championships, they would compete Monday, Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.
The Crusaders enter the 2009 campaign with plenty of opportunities for runners to move up in the lineup. With continued improvement from the returning runners and newcomers ready to step up and make their mark in their first season, Valpo could challenge for a top half finish at the Horizon League Championships.