A strong nucleus of seven returning lettermen will join five other returning runners and seven newcomers to help the Nebraska men’s cross country team build off a strong 2013 finish as the Huskers head into the 2014 campaign.
In his third season at the helm of the Huskers, Coach David Harris is excited about the prospects for NU men following a ninth-place finish at the 2013 NCAA Midwest Regional Championships.
“That was the performance that we needed,” Harris said. “The confidence they had after their performance at the regional is key for the upcoming season. It was our best performance in four years, and I keep sounding the board to build and have confidence from that performance going into the 2014 season.”
The men’s team that Harris will put on the course will be Nebraska’s most talented and deep group in his tenure with the Huskers.
Seniors Connor Gibson, Sidney Madlock and Alney Tobias are expected to join four talented juniors in providing leadership for the Big Red.
The junior class is led by Jonah Heng, who was named Nebraska’s Most Improved Runner in 2013. Heng, who produced a pair of top six overall finishes while placing among NU’s top six in every competition last year, was joined by Jacob Olson, Matt Bloch and Matt Gilbert in Harris’ first recruiting class at Nebraska.
“The men’s team’s first recruiting class when I got here has come along, contributing as freshmen to now being juniors in our program,” Harris said. “Jacob Olson, Matt Bloch, Matt Gilbert and Jonah Heng are the type of guys that we want to lead our program and we have that this year.”
Olson, a native of Kearney, Neb., could be poised for a strong third season in the program. Last season, Olson finished in the top five overall at three of Nebraska’s four regular-season meets. He was also NU’s No. 2 finisher at the Roy Griak Invitational and finished in the Huskers’ top five at both the Big Ten and NCAA Midwest Regional Championships.
“Jacob is a tremendous leader,” Harris said. “He has done a lot of things during the summer communicating with team, showing his true leadership qualities.”
Bloch and Gilbert both regularly finished among Nebraska’s top six runners last season, and will be looked to for improved performances as junior to help compensate for the loss of 2013 seniors Trevor Vidlak and Jarren Heng.
Another runner who could make a major jump in 2014 is sophomore Joe Harter. The two-time Nebraska High School Runner of the Year out of Millard West in Omaha was NU’s No. 1 finisher as a freshman at the 2013 Big Ten Championships. He added a No. 2 finish among the Huskers at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships. He added runner-up overall performances at the Augustana Twilight and the Tim Young Invitational last season.
“Joe is potentially our best runner going into the season. He has had a great summer and is ready to go. I am expecting really good things out of Joe this season,” Harris said. “The confidence is there, and I think he is more determined. Last year he figured out that collegiate cross country is a lot of work and he struggled sometimes, but he has responded really well. He knows he has to work hard in order to be a great runner in the Big Ten.”
In addition to Nebraska’s seven returning lettermen, a group of six true freshmen will be joined by a pair of redshirt freshmen and a junior college transfer in providing NU’s most depth under Harris.
The leader of Nebraska’s incoming freshman could be Wyatt McGuire. The native of North Platte, Neb., captured the 2013 Nebraska Class A State Cross Country Championship in a state record time of 15:26.6.
Young Huskers Hope to Climb in Strong Big Ten
The Nebraska women’s cross country team expects more talent and more depth on the course in Coach David Harris’ third season leading the Huskers.
The new mix of Huskers has Harris excited about the prospects for the upcoming season and beyond for Nebraska women’s cross country.
“I think all of our newcomers will make a huge difference in the depth of our squad,” Harris said. “I think we have depth on the women’s team for the first time since I have been here.”
The Huskers were dealt a blow during the preseason with the loss of three-time letterwinner Sarah Larson to a preseason injury, but Harris expects Nebraska’s young runners to respond.
Anna Peer is expected to be a leader on the course for the Huskers as a sophomore. The native of Bettendorf, Iowa, was regularly Nebraska’s top runner at the end of her freshman campaign in 2013, despite battling illness at the start of the season.
She led Nebraska with a third-place overall finish at the Tim Young Invitational on Oct. 19, and was NU’s top finisher at the Big Ten Championships (50th) and NCAA Midwest Regional (71st).
“Once Anna got over her sickness, the talent started coming out last season,” Harris said. “She is such a hard worker. Her talent started coming out, and she kept leading our team from that point on. We think she is going to do that again this year. We are very excited about Anna Peer as an athlete and as a leader.”
Another talented sophomore is Kristi Oslund. The native of Highlands Ranch, Colo., ran in Nebraska’s top five throughout her freshman season. She was NU’s No. 2 finisher at the season-opening Augustana Twilight and the Roy Griak Invitational.
While Peer and Oslund could be NU’s top two runners, Shawnice Williams is expected to add experience. Williams was NU’s No. 3 runner at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships and No. 4 finisher at the Big Ten Championships last season. A full year of training could pay dividends for the senior from Paramount, Calif.
Fellow senior Jessica Wright also returns after earning her second letter for the Huskers last season. The native of Bellevue, Neb., was one of NU’s top five runners at each of the Huskers’ four regular-season meets in 2013.
Megan Lush, who was a late addition to last year’s team after training on her own as a marathon runner as a student at Nebraska, also returns to NU’s top five. The junior from Plymouth, Minn., was Nebraska’s No. 5 finisher at the Big Ten Championships and Midwest Regional Championships.
A group of six talented freshmen will push Peer, Oslund, Lush and Williams for lineup spots, and Harris said all six could contend for time in Nebraska’s top seven.
The leading contenders among the freshmen are Grace Geiger and Elizabeth Carpino. Geiger, who graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in the Kansas City metro area, brings championship level talent. She placed third at the 2013 Kansas 5A State Cross Country Championships, posting a personal-best 19:23.90 over 5,000 meters.
Carpino added a seventh-place showing at the 2013 Missouri Class 4 Cross Country meet for Lee’s Summit North High School.
They are joined in the freshman class by Kendall Cast (Aurora, Ill.), Jacquelyn Dam (Arlington, Neb.), Haley Harsin (Syracuse, Neb.) and Katrina Santiago (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
“I think all of our freshmen have a chance to really help us out,” Harris said. “They could all be difference makers for our team this season.”
Harris said Nebraska’s goal is to improve on its 2013 Big Ten Championship finish, a tall task considering that from top to bottom, the Big Ten is the nation’s best conference.
Last season, six of the Big Ten’s 12 teams finished in the top 30 nationally, including No. 4 Michigan, No. 6 Michigan State, No. 20 Minnesota, No. 21 Wisconsin, No. 25 Penn State and No. 26 Indiana. In 2014, the Big Ten will expand to 14 women’s cross country teams for the first time with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the conference.
“This conference is very tough, probably the best conference in all of the NCAA,” Harris said. “We are looking to improve and that is the challenge that lies ahead of us.”
The Huskers start their journey at the Augustana Twilight in Sioux Falls, S.D., Sept. 5, before playing host to the annual Woody Greeno/Nebraska Invitational at Pioneers Park in Lincoln on Sept. 20.
Nebraska travels to the talent-rich Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, Minn., Sept. 27, before heading to the Bradley Classic in Peoria, Ill., on Oct. 17. The Huskers hope their four regular-season meets prepare them well for the 2014 Big Ten Championships at Iowa City, Iowa, before they return to Peoria, Ill., for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships on Nov. 14.
The 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships will be held in Terre Haute, Ind., Nov. 23.