A young Nebraska women’s cross country team will begin a new era with Coach David Harris at the helm in 2012 with the challenge of replacing four talented seniors from the 2011 squad. Ashley Miller, Jessica Furlan, Erica Hamik and Katie White made up the nucleus of Nebraska’s team for the past several seasons, helping the Huskers to a sixth-place finish at the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional and a seventh-place showing in their first Big Ten Championships.
In addition to the losses of four strong 2011 seniors, the Huskers also will be challenged by the loss of junior Martina Barinova. One of Nebraska’s top runners as a freshman in 2010, Barinova battled to overcome injuries during the 2011 cross country season and the 2012 track season. She competed in only two cross country meets a year ago. This season she is expected to redshirt while trying to recover completely from the injuries that sidelined her a year ago.
With the heavy losses among Nebraska’s top runners, Isabel Andrade is expected to be a leader for the Huskers in 2012. The junior from Petaluma, Calif., lettered for NU as a sophomore and competed at the Big Ten and NCAA Midwest Regional Championships. She also performed well in the classroom, earning academic All-Big Ten honors. She notched a career-best sixth-place finish in a time of 19:54.72 at the UNO/Creighton Invitational, before posting a career-best time of 18:38.7 at the South Dakota State Classic. She closed the year by finishing 70th at the Big Ten Championships and 85th at the Midwest Regional in Dekalb, Ill.
“Isabel has a tremendous work ethic and will be a great benefit as a captain this country season to the young athletes we have on our team,” Harris said. “It is now her time to step up and lead the team as an upper-class runner.”
Fellow junior Sarah Plambeck is expected to be another key returner for the Huskers. The Lincoln Christian High School graduate will join Andrade as a captain for the 2012 squad after earning her first cross country letter as a sophomore a year ago. Plambeck, who finished 80th at the 2011 Big Ten Championships and 135th at the NCAA Midwest Regional, posted a season-high fifth-place finish at the UNO/Creighton Invitational last season. She also performed well in the classroom, joining Andrade on the academic All-Big Ten squad.
“Sarah will be one of our women’s captains this year,” Harris said. “Her dedication during her junior season should result in some nice performances as one of the upper-class runners on our team.”
Sophomores Sarah Larson and Hannah Edwards will also look for improvement while providing leadership for the younger Huskers. Larson, a Lincoln native, demonstrated her talent in her first season of competitive cross country at any level in 2011. A Nebraska all-state softball player at Lincoln Northeast High School, Larson’s softball commitments limited her distance training to the track in high school. However, she made a quick adjustment to collegiate cross country training as a freshman. After a top-10 finish at the UNO/Creighton Invitational to open the season, she posted a career-best time of 19:00.0 to take 23rd at the SDSU Classic. Although she did not compete at the Big Ten Championships, she finished 137th at the NCAA Midwest Regional Meet to close her freshman season. Edwards, a native of Whittier, Calif., competed in three meets as a freshman, making her final appearance at the Woody Greeno/Nebraska Invitational.
With just four healthy returning cross country runners on the roster, Nebraska will rely heavily on incoming freshman runners that will make a difference in just their first year of competition.
Freshman transfer Jessica Wright will be eligible to compete in her first season for NU this year. A native of Bellevue Neb., spent last fall at Marquette University. Wright earned all-metro cross country and track and field honors while in high school, and has a very bright future for the Huskers.
Tess Keller, a native of Sparta, N.J., will also be a force for NU this season. Keller recorded numerous top-10 finishes in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Group Championships in track, and cross country.
Sarah Dweikat will also be a freshman contributor this season. Dweikat, a Lincoln native and Lincoln East graduate has competed in the NSAA track and field championships, and recorded a sixth place finish at the 2011 NSAA cross country championship.
Nebraska’s young team will face the challenge of going head-to-head with a talented Big Ten Conference.
Five Big Ten teams finished among the top 30 in the nation in 2011, led by Michigan State, which closed the year in 12th at the NCAA Championships. Michigan added a top-15 NCAA finish, while Penn State (22nd), Wisconsin (28th) and Minnesota (30th) lead the list of talented Big Ten foes.
Before competing against the best the runners the conference has to offer at the Big Ten Championships in East Lansing, Mich., on Oct. 28, the young Huskers will begin laying their foundation for success with the season-opening Creighton/UNO Classic in Omaha on Sept. 1. Two weeks later the Huskers will play host to the Woody Greeno/Nebraska Invitational at Pioneers Park in Lincoln on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 10 a.m. Nebraska returns to the road for the KU Rim Rock Farm Classic on Sept. 29, before competing at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. 12. Following Nebraska’s second appearance at the Big Ten Championships, the NCAA Midwest Regional will be held in Springfield, Mo., on Nov. 9. The NCAA Championships are set for Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky.
“I think that it’s a must that we schedule low key at the start of the season before we hit the October portion of our schedule. We are trying to build momentum going in to the Big Ten Championships in East Lansing.