Aug. 17, 2010
COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Mizzou cross country program, now under the direction of former assistant coach Rebecca Wilmes, opened practice on Monday (Aug. 16). Heading into the 2010 season, the program has plenty to be excited about with a retooled coaching staff and a core group of runners that should provide both the men's and women's team with plenty of quality depth.
"I am really excited about the core group coming back, both on the men's and women's sides. They all bring a get-it-done attitude, which I like," Wilmes commented. "On the women's side, we have a great runner that is still a sophomore and a great leader - that is very exciting."
That great runner returning to the course in 2010 is sophomore Kaitie Vanatta (Littleton, Colo.), who put together arguably one of - if not the best - freshman seasons in Mizzou cross country history during 2009. As a true freshman, Vanatta earned All-Big 12 honors, All-Midwest Region honors and qualified for the NCAA Championships, where she finished 54th overall and fifth among freshmen competitors nationally.
"She's really talented and she's really tough," Wilmes said. "Honestly the kid does everything right and she has this desire to be great. She is the type of athlete that will really do anything that she can to be great."
Also returning in 2010 will be sophomore Bailey Belvis (Prosper, Texas) and senior Kinsey Farren (Dallas, Texas), which establishes a strong core of runners leading the pack for the Tiger women. Vanatta and Belvis led the Tigers all season long as one of the two finished first among Tiger runners at each competition. The pair also finished 1-2 at the Big 12 Championships. Farren is two years removed from leading the Tigers at every competition in 2008, which gives the Tigers a lot to look forward to in 2010.
Aside from Vanatta's accolades in 2009, Belvis also had a fine season. In her first four collegiate races she placed 16th or better and claimed the SIU Early Bird title, which was her first collegiate race. She also placed fifth overall and led all Tigers at the Greater Louisville Classic and was third at the Mizzou Cross Country Challenge. She also placed 40th at the Big 12 Championships and 54th at the Midwest Regional, showing a bright future for the Texas native.
Farren, also a Texas native, had her best race of the season at the NCAA Midwest Regional last season and carried that into a great summer of training which has her poised for another great season in 2010. She is an All-Big 12 honoree and a Drake Relays Champion at 10,000 meters, so she should play an integral role on this season's team.
But the front-running trio is not all the Tigers have to boast about heading into the 2010 season.
"This year's team brings quite a bit more depth than last season's," Wilmes said. "There are a lot of girls who have been working hard and have put themselves in a position to step up this season. Laura Roxberg has had a really good summer, so that is exciting. Aimee Bonte has had a good summer as well and Layne Moore has had a full year of running since her surgery, so she is a nice wild card for us."
All three of those Tigers ran in the post season in 2009 and all look poised to provide quality depth all season long. But aside from the returners, the Tigers have brought in an exciting class of newcomers. Regan Tindell, Maggie Priebe, Marie O'Leary and Eden Slater will all see plenty of time on the course this season.
"Overall, we are sitting in a much better spot today than we were a year ago at this time, given some of the health issues we were coming off of," Wilmes said. "A lot of what defines a great cross country season at the six months leading up to it. We have a pretty exciting group; it is a young group and our leaders are young, but they all bring big-meet experience. It should be an exciting year."
On the men's side, a pair of Missouri natives Phillip King (Columbia, Mo.) and Dan Quigley (St. Louis, Mo.) will lead the pack in 2010. The pair led the Tigers all through the 2009 season and will be running alongside the best runners in the nation all season long.
"The two of them just provide great leadership," Wilmes said. "Phil has had a great summer and is a really focused, driven individual. He works so hard, is such a tough kid and we really value him as a leader. Dan is a definite front runner and he is a guy that you can count on to get it done. So with those guys we have a nice core of guys that we can count on."
King started his 2009 season by placing first overall at the Missouri Cross Country Challenge and he went on to run in each of the Tigers' postseason races, finishing second among Tigers at the Big 12 Championships and at the NCAA Midwest Regional. Quigley was the Tigers' top finisher at the Roy Griak Classic, the Arkansas Chile Pepper Festival and the Big 12 Championships. Both are seniors in 2010 and will lead a very talented bunch this season.
Another senior with high expectations will be Michael Pandolfo (Lone Tree, Colo.), who saved his best race for last in 2009 as he was the Tigers' top finisher at the NCAA Midwest Regional where he ran to a 36th-place nod on the 10K course. Phil Bascio (Florissant, Mo.) will also be looked upon to rank among the top Tiger runners in 2010. Pandolfo and Bascio, along with King and Quigley, will also be asked to provide leadership to the Tiger underclassmen.
Two of those underclassmen that will likely be in the Tigers' top five all season will be sophomore Max Storms (Kansas City, Mo.) and sophomore Tyler Compton (Buffalo, Mo.). Both ran in the Tigers' two postseason meets in 2010 and put together solid freshman seasons that they can hopefully build upon heading into 2010.
"Max had a nice freshman season and he progressed really well," Wilmes said. "He is the type of kid that you want on your line at every meet. He is such a great competitor. He, along with Tyler Compton, I expect to pick it up and mix it up in the top five all season."
Wilmes also expects a pair of Canadian newcomers - Merid Seleshi (Ontario, Canada) and Eric Dillon (Ontario, Canada) - to provide an immediate impact to the roster. Both were outstanding middle distance runners in high school, but boast plenty to be excited about on the cross country course.
"Both of those kids are great runners," Wilmes said of the newcomers. "Eric is a very strong runner and Merid just has some really great wheels. We are really excited about them along with JT McCarthy, who was an Iowa State Champion in high school."
The Tiger men also return a few "wild cards" according to Wilmes. Aaron Dixon (Lee's Summit, Mo.), whose bread-and-butter is the 800m run on the track, was the Tigers' third finished at the NCAA Midwest Regional last season, a 10K race, which is more than a respectable performance from a middle-distance runner. He brings leadership and plenty of high level performance from the track to the cross country circuit in 2010. Also, junior Kyle Rood (St. Peters, Mo.) returns after and an injury-filled 2009 season, giving the Tigers another quality runner to bank on.
Also, the Tiger men will also make the transition to a new coach as Fred Binggeli will mentor the men's distance runners as he serves as an assistant coach with both the cross country and track and field programs this season. Binggeli brings with him an impressive coaching résumé after serving as a head coach at the University of Virginia and Southeast Missouri State. At Virginia, Binggeli was a five-time ACC Coach of the Year, twice doing so during the indoor season, twice during the outdoor season and once as the head cross country coach. His most recent accolade came in 1993 when he was named ACC Cross Country Coach of the Year. He was named ACC Indoor Coach of the Year in 1987 and 1994 and ACC Outdoor Coach of the Year in 1990 and 1995.
Binggeli has also coached an Olympic Gold Medalist as he mentored Paul Ereng to an 800m win in the 1988 Olympic Games.
The Tigers open the season at the SIU Early Bird on Sept. 3. For all the latest on Mizzou cross country, stay tuned to MUTigers.com.