After a summer of running 80 to 90 miles a week, the men’s cross-country team has its sights set on making the NCAA Cross Country Championship for the first time in school history this year.
Entering the first week of the season, injuries to some of its more experienced runners will provide an early obstacle on the team’s road to Louisville in November.
Senior captain Patrick Maag spent his summer in New York and ran daily before heading to work at an internship. Towards the end of his summer, he suffered a sprained ankle.
Similarly, the team’s other senior captain, Jack Senefeld, is suffering from a stress fracture after running in Milwaukee with some of his teammates.
The injuries to the two captains are a hit for a team with no standout runner. Several runners are vying for the top spot, as five of the team’s top seven runners from 2011 return this season.
Coach Mike Nelson is entering his sixth season with the team and has no problem with the lack of an initial superstar on his roster.
“I can really see us being the type of team that puts five guys within 20 to 25 seconds between each other,” Nelson said, “as opposed to one runner being a full minute ahead of the next. We don’t necessarily have that, but we definitely do have some quality frontrunners.”
The captains are expected to make a full recovery in the coming weeks and compete with the faster runners on the team by the middle of the season.
Aside from Maag and Senefeld, senior Jack Hackett is expected to break out in 2012.
Hackett has the fastest personal best in the 5,000 meter on the track, but some of his teammates are faster when racing on the hills. His transition from running on the track to hill running will be tested for the first time this season at the NIU Huskie Invitational on Sept. 7.
Bob Guthrie may not be a senior, but as a junior he is exceeding expectations and could go from not being in the team’s top seven a year ago to leading the pack. After a top 8,000-meter run time of 26:22.72, he should see more time during championship season.
Senior Connor Callahan finished fourth on the team at the Big East Championships and the NCAA Great Lakes Regional in 2011. After the graduation of Peter Bolgert and Blake Johnson, Callahan could lead the team in the first few meets depending on how quickly Senefeld recovers.
“Callahan has been one of the most consistent runners since he’s been at Marquette,” Senefeld said. “He’s another guy that has a personal best under 25 minutes (for the 8,000-meter). He had a pretty good season on the track leading into this cross-country season.”
The freshman class includes state champions, high school captains and multiple varsity letter winners. The seniors have practiced with them and believe the future looks promising.
“It seems like (the freshmen) are fitting in pretty nicely. The Alumni Race should be a good test to see how their fitness is doing,” Maag said. “I’m excited to see what they can do. They’re willing to put in the work and are talented enough to carry on that Marquette excellence.”
The Golden Eagles have two weeks before their quest to prove they are among the 32 best cross-country teams in the country begins at the NIU Huskie Invitational.
The journey will be filled with many workouts, races and obstacles. Coach Nelson preaches that they should not enter the season with their heads held too high.
“Every day is just about getting better. Coming into the season too fired up is not a good thing,” Nelson said. “The season is long. You want to come in with this calm and cool confidence. That’s what our seniors have.”