Mix of Youth and Experience Adds Great Depth to Tigers' Cross Country

MUTIGERS.COM Senior Liz Reida is one of those looked to as a leader of this young Tigers' team
Senior Liz Reida is one of those looked to as a leader of this young Tigers' team

Aug 30, 2013

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Depth.  That is perhaps the defining word for the 2013 Tigers women’s cross country team.  Depth or, perhaps, youth.  It is, after all, hard to ignore the fact that on a roster of 27, 15 of those names are true freshmen.  But, as second-year Head Coach Joe Lynn points out, therein lies much of the strength for the women's program.

“Even though we’ve only been together for three weeks, it’s pretty clear that [this freshman class] is a very talented group who has meshed well with our returning ladies, which is always important,” said Lynn. “They’re definitely going to fill in some gaps that we’ve had, along with adding some major depth to the program, which is always important for the future.”

The Returners
Mention must first be made, though, of the exciting group of returners who will take the lead in the upcoming season.  One of the key names on this list is junior Liz Reida (Springfield, MO), who was consistently a top three runner for the Tigers last season.  Reida is also coming off a great track season, where she sported the black and gold at both the indoor and outdoor SEC Championships.  The 2012 All-Big 12 finisher in the Steeplechase will look to add an All-SEC honor come November.

Joining Reida up front in leading the Tigers are junior Courtney Brown (Palatine, IL) and redshirt junior Ali Ross (St. Louis, MO).  Both were consistent varsity performers for the Tigers last year and had some breakout performances during the indoor and outdoor track seasons.

“Courtney had a great [outdoor] season for us, dropping her 5k time significantly.  She’s continued that momentum and has progressed to a higher level of training than where she was last year, which is always exciting to see,” said Lynn. “Ali’s training has also progressed quite a bit.  She’s a great person to have up front as a senior and one of the program’s vocal leaders, I think she’s really someone that the younger girls can look to as an example.”

Another key returner for the Tigers is sophomore Sam Garrett (Columbia, MO), who kicked off her career with top ten team finishes throughout the majority of the season, including an impressive performance at the 2012 SEC Championships where she was one of the five team scorers.  Another returning 2012 All-Big 12 Steeplechase honoree is junior Courtney Wood, who was consistently a scoring presence for the Tigers last year.

Another key returner to watch out for is the lone senior on the team, Marie O’Leary (Normal, IL).  O’Leary has been a key top seven presence in the past, and will look to continue that this fall.  Junior Maria Effinger (Swansea, IL), who was a consistent top seven finisher for the Tigers last year, also returns.  Other important returners include junior Landon Wachter (Jackson, MO), sophomore Brianna Westervelt (Kansas City, MO), Morgan Nelson (Butler, MO), and Jasmine Webb (Dallas, TX), and redshirt freshman Libby Luciani (Kirkwood, MO).  Wachter and Webb are both mid-distance specialists on the track, earning All-Big 12 honors for their efforts as members of some of Mizzou’s DMR and 4x400m relay teams.

The Freshmen
Many times, a few individuals will stand out from the rest in a freshman class.  For these new Tigers, however, that is not necessarily the case.

“It’s hard to pick out any stand-outs, they’re all so talented,” said Lynn of the group which boasts 23 State Championship titles in cross country and track across three states.  

A few who have made their presence known early on during workouts, though, are Kaitlyn Fischer (Pevely, MO), Kaelyn Balch (Wichita, KS), Nicole Mello (Columbia, MO), and Brooke Wolfe (Mt. Prospect, IL). 

Kaitlyn Fischer was a seven-time Missouri (MSHSAA) 2A State Champion for Herculaneum HS, taking home titles in cross country (2012), the 1600m (2010-12), and the 3200m (2010-12). 

Kaelyn Balch is another multiple-time State Champion from Kansas (KSHSAA), where she ran for Bishop Carroll Catholic HS.  Balch was the 5A State Champion in cross country (2011, 2012), the 4x800m (2012, 2013), and the 3200m (2013).

Nicole Mello is a Columbia-native who earned multiple All-State finishes in both cross country and track for Hickman HS, as well as a top 20 finish at the 2011 Foot Locker National Championships for cross country.

Rounding out this first group is Mt. Prospect HS graduate Brooke Wolfe who, like Mello, brings All-State and National Championship experience with an 18th-place finish at the 2010 Nike Cross National Championship.  

“Those four come to mind as being able to have an instant impact on our varsity this year, or have a good shot of running in our top seven,” said Lynn. “Kayla Friesen, Megan Cunningham, Sarah Jacobsen, and Mikayla Kightlinger are some others who have been pleasant surprises for us in the first two weeks of practice.  They look like they have all the tools to be great for us.”

Friesen (Chesterfield, MO), Cunningham (Eureka, MO), and Jacobsen (Potosi, MO) have all garnered Missouri All-State accolades in both cross country and track, while Kightlinger (Wheaton, IL) is an Illinois All-State finisher as well as a Nike Cross Nationals qualifier.

Other freshmen to watch out for during the season are Missouri State Champion in the 4x400m (2012, 2013) and 800m (2012) Valeska Halamicek (St. Charles, MO), three-time Missouri Cross Country and Track Championships qualifier Teylar Adelsberger (O’Fallon, MO), four-time Illinois State Cross Country Championships qualifier Becca Batliner (Barrington, IL), two-time Illinois State Track & Field Championships qualifier Kayla Wolf (Burlington, IL), three-time Missouri Cross Country Championships qualifier Bailey Hession (Willard, MO), 2012 Missouri Cross Country All-State finisher Ellyn Atkinson (Springfield, MO), and 2013 Missouri Track & Field Championships qualifier Bianca Mello (Columbia, MO). 

“Our goal is to just continue to progress and get better each and every week.  It’s hard being such a young team to really gauge where we’re at this early, but I’m excited, and our staff is excited,” said Lynn. “All indications from what we’ve seen so far in practice and workouts indicates that it should be a fun fall.”

The Schedule
The Tigers kick off their season this afternoon with the Missouri Open, followed by a trip to Fayetteville next weekend to take on the University of Arkansas.  The Tigers will then have a three-week break before returning to action at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, MN.  The highlight of the regular season schedule comes on October 4th, when Mizzou will travel to the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational.  The Tigers will then wrap up the regular season portion of the schedule with the Bradley Invitational on October 18th.

“For us, September and October are about getting ready for November and the SEC and NCAA Championship competition,” said Lynn. “Having such a young team, we will stress making smart choices daily with the importance of listening and taking care of our bodies.  Hopefully we’ll be in Terre Haute at the end of November.”

The University of Florida will play host to the SEC Cross Country Championships on November 1st.  Two weeks later, the team will travel to Ames, IA, for the NCAA Midwest Regional competition where the Tigers will hope to qualify for the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, IN, on November 23rd.

For the latest on your Tigers, stay tuned to MUTigers.com and follow the team on Twitter @MIZ_TrackField.



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