Sept. 13, 2012
Columbia, Mo. - “Everything’s set in place, just got to see what happens now,” said Head Cross Country Coach Joe Lynn as the Tiger Men and Women prepare to make their first appearance in their debut season as part of the SEC.
“Moving into the SEC, for us, presents a new opportunity,” Coach Lynn said. “The guys set the goal last year to be the first team in Missouri to win a Conference title in the SEC. We don’t really talk much about that, but we definitely know that it’s there and it’s attainable.”
With teams like Texas A&M and Georgia, it will be a difficult road for the Mizzou Men. However, the impressive array of talent from the newcomers and returners definitely put an SEC Championship win in the cards.
Senior Max Storms tops the list of key returners on the Men’s side. Storms is coming off the 2012 Outdoor Track season as the new 10k school record holder (29:15.61) and NCAA National Qualifier. And, after a solid summer of training, is prepared to lead the charge into this new era of Missouri Cross Country.
“He’s taken his training to a whole new level,” Coach Lynn said. “It’s his senior year and he wants to leave here positioning this program in a new level. He’s definitely someone who’s on a mission this fall to accomplish some big things, both as a team and as an individual.”
Another key returner is junior Hayden Legg, who earned All-Region Honors last fall after finishing 20th at the Midwest Regional Championships. Along with Storms, Legg took a big step forward in his training this summer, and will be looked to as a key component to the Tigers’ success this fall.
“You always know Hayden is going to be the rock of the program,” Coach Lynn said. “You know he’s going to get the job done no matter what the circumstances are. Whether he’s having a good or bad day, he’s just a really solid runner for us.”
Junior Merid Seleshi has been another important factor in the front group during summer training. Seleshi has been a consistent contributor for the Tigers since his freshman year, and Coach Lynn is looking forward to a strong season from him as one of the team leaders.
“If Merid does what he’s capable of doing, he’s going to turn some heads, not only in the Conference, but he has the capability of doing some big things nationally,” Coach Lynn said.
Rounding out the key junior returners is Tyler Compton, who came through in a big way for the Tigers lasat fall, coming in as 4th on the team at the Midwest Regional Meet, helping them clinch the 7th place spot.
“Tyler is quiet, a hard-worker, doesn’t complain, comes to practice and does what he’s told,” Coach Lynn said. “[He’s] really the type of student-athlete we want here at Missouri.”
Sophomores Sam Dickerson and Bryant Blahnik are also being looked to as key influences for the team when it comes to long-term goals. After getting some great experience last fall, they are in a good position to add some valuable depth to the squad.
“Those two are kind of the future of the program, along with this freshmen class,” Coach Joe Lynn said. “They’re two really great individuals to have, both as athletes and leaders. They make all the right decisions and I think a lot of people recognize and respect that.”
On the women’s side, a strong summer of training and the health of key returners is certainly a positive start as they begin competition.
“I think if we play our cards right, and if the pieces come together like I think they will come October and November, we have the ability and the talent to be as good as any team in the Conference,” Coach Lynn said. “That’s a goal that the girls have in the back of their minds and we’ll continue to work hard each day to see where our potential takes us.”
This season will be an important building year for the Lady Tigers, as they transition to training under Coach Lynn, who took over both programs earlier this summer. Senior Bailey Belvis has been an important part of easing the change as the team prepares to take on strong programs like Vanderbilt, Florida, and Texas A&M.
Belvis finished 14th at the Big 12 Championships last fall, earning All-Conference Honors and led the Tigers to a 4th place finish. She was also All-Region after finishing 19th at the Midwest Regional, leading the team to a 7th place finish.
“Right now she’s in phenomenal shape,” Coach Lynn said. “She kept great communication over the summer, and has done a great job of understanding what we’re doing.”
Junior Kaitie Vanatta, who was an NCAA Qualifier in 2009 and one of the top freshmen women in the country, is another big returner for the women’s squad. She’ll be looked to as another team leader, along with Belvis, after a great summer of training.
“We’re making sure that she’s ready to do some big things when the time comes later in the year,” Coach Lynn said.
Sophomores Liz Reida, Courtney Brown, Courtney Wood, and Ali Ross will also be looked to as important factors in the team’s success. Reida, Brown, and Wood are all top 7 returners from last year, and “any of them could break out early, and I can see them taking a step forward and being with Kaitie and Bailey by the end of the year,” Coach Lynn said.
“Ross, who’s been an 800m specialist for us in the past…had another great summer of training, mileage is great, she’s just looked incredible,” Coach Lynn said. “Ali’s going to be one that’s going to be in the mix for varsity for sure.”
The men’s returners will be helped by freshmen Evan Chiplock, Tyler Schneider, and Joe McKenna, who have been mixing it up with the front group throughout training. For the women, Sam Garrett is expected to step up with the top returners and add some depth.
“[Sam’s] not afraid to mix it up. She’s just confident in herself, and she understands that her role on the team is to make us as good as possible,” Coach Lynn said. “So she’s not afraid to take over a workout or be in that leadership position leading that second group.”
Competition for the Tigers begins this Saturday as 13 of the women and 15 of the men travel to Ames, IA, for the Iowa State Cross Country Invitational. After that the teams will travel to Louisville for the Greater Louisville Classic (Sep. 29), where they will meet their first challenge. Over 115 schools will be represented in Louisville, including about ten that are nationally ranked.
“For us it presents an opportunity. The Midwest Region is a very tough region, there are some really quality programs,” Coach Lynn said. “So getting into meets like Louisville and Wisconsin during the season, and trying to pick up some wins, will be key definitely for each team down the road to hopefully at the very least obtain an at-large bid [into Nationals].”
The Adidas Wisconsin Invitational in Madison will follow on October 12, and then the SEC Championships in Nashville, TN, on October 26. The Midwest Regional Championships in Springfield, MO, will be on October 9, and the NCAA Championships will be back in Louisville on November 17.
Check back here for more updates on both squads, and follow the team on Twitter @MIZ_TrackField.