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Cross Country Outlook
Expectations are high
When the 2002 University of Southern Indiana men's cross country team makes the turn for the final kilometer of the season it will have three goals in sight at the finish line - a Great Lakes Valley Conference championship, the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Regional Championship, and a berth in the NCAA II National Championships.
USI, which dominated the GLVC and the Great Lakes Region in the 1980s and 1990s, enters the 2002 season with the depth to recapture the swagger of a champion and return to the top. Between 1980 and 1991, the Eagles won 11 GLVC crowns and finished in the top three of the Great Lakes Regional 10 times, advancing to the NCAA II Championships each time.
The reason Eagles fans can have such high expectations for the first time since mid-1990s is Head Coach Mike Hillyard returning four of his seven best runners from 2001.
Leading the pack of returning runners is All-American, All-Region, and All-GLVC junior Joey Byrne (Georgetown, Indiana). Byrne, who finished 13th at the NCAA Division II National Championships with a 10k time of 32:21.1, won the GLVC individual title and led USI in five of the six meets. He also posted a meet win at the Chris Jones Invitational hosted by Bellarmine University.
Byrne, who went on to qualify for and place 11th in the NCAA II Outdoor Track Championships, posted USI's second best 8k time ever with a 24:03.0 at the Indiana Intercollegiates.
Following closely in Byrne's foot steps is junior Doug Schwartz (Centralia, Illinois) and junior Mark Thurner (Hebron, Indiana). Schwartz and Thurner were both named All-GLVC, placing seventh and 10th respectively in the league meet last fall.
Schwartz had his best 10k time, 33:27, at the GLVC Championships, while running an 8k time of 25:27.10 at the Indiana State Invitational. Thurner had a break-through season with his fastest 10k of 33:39 at the GLVC meet and an 8k clip of 25:28.1 at the Indiana Intercollegiates.
Both runners also ran NCAA II provisional qualifying times on the track last spring. Schwartz posted a 3:54 in the 1500m, while Thurner had a 9:18 in the 3000m steeplechase.
Another regular in USI's top seven a year ago was junior Matt Cronch (Valparaiso, IN). Cronch, who was is in the top seven five times, won the Stegemoller Classic and placed 17th in the GLVC Championships.
Returning and looking for a chance to pop back into the top seven are senior Miles Krieger (Floyds Knobs, Indiana) and juniors Lance Sluder (Fairbanks, Indiana) and Dustin Blink (Cedar Lake, Indiana). Krieger, who had a season-best second place finish at the Stegemoller Classic with an 8k time of 26:24.7, has shown the potential to help USI in its drive for championships in 2002.
Blink had two USI top seven finishes last season with season-best third at the Stegemoller Classic. Sluder also recorded his best placing, fourth, in the classic.
Headlining Hillyard's 17 newcomers is sophomore Will Siemers (Bensenville, Illinois). Siemers, who had originally signed with USI out of Fenton High School, transfers to the Eagles' program from Rend Lake College after earning All-American honors for a 13th place finish in the NJCAA National Championships in 2002.
Siemers is followed in the recruiting class by the freshmen prospects.
Locally, freshman Brian Heaton (Evansville, Indiana) comes to USI from Reitz High School were he earned eight letters in cross country and track. The Evansville native won the city championship in the 1600m and the 3200m as a junior. He also was named All-City, All-SIAC, All-Sectional, and All-Regional.
From northern Indiana, Hillyard brings in a pair from Valparaiso, Indiana. Freshman Eric Fleming (Valparaiso, Indiana) joins the squad after becoming a three-time All-State performer and a 17th place showing in the 2001 IHSAA Cross Country Championships at Valparaiso High School.
Coming south with Fleming is freshman Jake England (Valparaiso, Indiana). England, an eight-time letter winner in cross country and track at Wheeler High School, ran the 1600m in 4:20.21, the sixth fastest time by a senior in Indiana last spring.
The Eagles begin the cross country season with the Belmont Opener on Friday, September 6, and then jump into the thick of the season with Indiana Intercollegiates at Indiana University on Friday, September 20. Following USI's only home meet of the year, the Stegemoller Classic on Saturday, October 5, the Eagles have the GLVC Championships on Saturday, October 26, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Regional in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Saturday, November 9.
The NCAA II Championship meet will be Saturday, November 23, in Ashland, Ohio.