Crusader Women Set For 2011 Campaign
Nicole Zehel and the Crusaders open the season this weekend at home. (Ray Acevedo)
Crusader Women Set For 2011 Campaign
Thursday, September 01, 2011

A small and youthful squad will take to the cross country trails this year, as the Valparaiso women’s cross country team prepares for the start of the 2011 season this weekend.

The Crusaders feature just seven runners this year, while no seniors are on the roster.  Junior Haley Kerlin is the veteran presence on the 2011 roster, while she is joined by a quartet of sophomores entering their second years with the program.  A pair of freshmen also joins the Valpo squad for the 2011 campaign.

Kerlin is back for her third season with the Crusaders in 2011, having made giant strides forward during her sophomore season.  After running among Valpo’s top-five runners just once as a freshman, Kerlin contributed to the Crusaders’ team score in five out of six meets in 2010.  She also slashed over a minute off of her career-best 5K time, posting a season-best time of 20:00.97 at last year’s Crusader Open.

Among Valpo’s four sophomores is a pair of runners who were among the Crusaders’ top-five runners in all six races as freshmen.  Claire Johnson lowered her 5K time consistently over the course of the season, eventually running a season-best 19:13.97 at the Horizon League Championships, where she paced the Valpo contingent and finished in 23rd place overall.  Johnson also led the Crusaders’ runners at the Notre Dame Invitational.  Meanwhile, Nicole Zehel also ran among Valpo’s top-five in all six meets, including a team-best 14th place effort at the Evansville Invitational.  Zehel also ran a season-best time that day at Evansville, covering the 5K course in 19:09.71.

Grace Shemwell competed in four races as a freshman, missing the middle two meets.  She placed among Valpo’s top-five twice, including a team-best time of 19:17.84 at the Crusader Open, good for 12th place.  Shemwell also contributed to Valpo’s team score at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional.  Grace Watkins ran at all six meets for the Crusaders as a rookie, improving over the course of the season.  Watkins sliced over three minutes off her 5K time from the start of the season to the Evansville Invitational, where she ran a season-best time of 21:06.83.  Freshmen Eileen Carmignani and Jessica Richardson join the Crusaders for 2011 as well.

The 2011 schedule consists of four races leading into the Horizon League Championships.  The Crusader Open will be contested for the 23rd time in 2011, and for the 18th straight year it will serve as Valpo’s season-opening meet.  Action at Sunset Hills Farm on Friday begins at 5 p.m. with the women’s race, set for five kilometers, while the men’s 6K will follow at 5:45 p.m.

Two weeks later, Valpo will travel outside of Indiana for the only time in the regular season, heading to the United States Naval Academy to compete in the Navy Invitational on Sept. 17.  On Sept. 30, a brief jaunt to the east is in the cards as the Crusaders will run at the Notre Dame Invitational, while Valpo’s final tuneup comes on Oct. 15 as it travels downstate to cover the course at the Evansville Invitational.

With four races under their belts, the Crusaders will aim to be peaking for the 2011 Horizon League Championships, hosted this year by Cleveland State University and scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29.  The NCAA Great Lakes Regional is slated to be run Saturday, Nov. 12 in Toledo, Ohio.