November 19, 2008
New cast of Eagles looking for same big finish
EVANSVILLE, Ind.—The University of Southern Indiana men's cross country team finds itself in the familiar territory of making its final preparations for the NCAA Division II National Championships, which are Saturday at 11 a.m. (CST) in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.
USI is making its fourth consecutive trip to the national meet and is looking to improve on its eighth-place finish at last year's championship meet. The eighth-place finish tied for the third-best mark in the program's history.
While the No. 13 Screaming Eagles are looking to match or better last year's big finish, they will have to do so with a much different look than what they brought to the field in 2007.
Gone are the likes of Rey Alvarez, Joe King, All-American Paul Jellema, and Tristan Mannix. Senior All-American Tim Sirbek
(Hammond, Indiana) is red-shirting, leaving just two competitors from last-year's top seven that will compete Saturday—junior Brandon Campbell
(Portage, Indiana) and sophomore Andrew Dixon
And though it seemed like the Eagles would be mired in a rebuilding year, they simply reloaded and find themselves in a position to improve on last year's outstanding finish.
"We've always had a philosophy to build for the future," nine-time GLVC Coach of the Year Mike Hillyard
explained. "Although it is great if the kids can contribute as freshmen, our goal is to have them ready to contribute by the time they are upper classmen.
"We have some really good guys this year that were 10th, 11th, and 12th for us," Hillyard continued. "I just stress to them that the times they are running as freshmen and sophomores are better than previous groups that we've had at that stage in their careers."
To prove their depth, the Eagles dominated the GLVC Championship meet to pick up their fourth straight conference title and league-record 16th in the program's history. USI was so dominating that it had 10 runners finish in the top 20 and had eight runners earn All-Conference honors.
USI followed its GLVC performance by tying for second at the NCAA II Midwest Region Championships; a finish that was somewhat disappointing for the Eagles, but a performance that marked its best finish since 1991.
"I knew it was possible for us to have success," Hillyard said. "People say you create your own luck, but in terms of staying healthy, we've been pretty lucky. Then again, this has been the most diligent group of guys I've worked with, so maybe we do create our own luck."
And now, with Campbell, Dixon, seniors Bryan Phillips
(Kokomo, Indiana) and Robert Roads
(Terre Haute, Indiana), and freshmen Brendan Devine
(Bethel, New York), Dustin Emerick
(Elmwood, Illinois), and David Goodman
(Valparaiso, Indiana) set to toe the line Saturday, the new-look Eagles find themselves in that familiar territory of competing for a top-10 finish at the NCAA II National Championships.
All Emerick did during his first collegiate season was earn GLVC Freshman of the Year honors and lead the Eagles in four of their six meets. Phillips and Devine earned All-Region honors with their fourth and ninth-place finishes, respectively, at the region championships.
All seven competitors that the Eagles are sending to nationals earned All-GLVC honors this season, while Goodman was the GLVC Freshman of the Year in both indoor and outdoor track last spring.
If only all rebuilding projects were so easy!
USI Sports Information