Huskers Look to Defend Team Titles in Omaha...
The Nebraska cross country team will open the 2011 season on Saturday, Sept. 3, at the Creighton/UNO Classic in Omaha, Neb., at Chili Greens.
The 5,000 meter women's race will begin at 10 a.m., followed by the 8,000 meter men's race at 10:45 a.m. Creighton, Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa Western are expected to compete on the men's side. The Women's race will feature the same competition, as well as Nebraska-Omaha and Peru State.
The women's team will look to take home its third straight team title. The women will travel with an experienced team, including 2009 Creighton/UNO champion Erica Hamik, 2011 senior co-captain Ashley Miller and fellow senior Katie White. Along with the upperclassmen are newcomers Hannah Edwards and Sarah Larson. The Huskers will not be taking 2010 All-Midwest Region runner sophomore Martina Barinova and 2011 senior co-captain Jessica Furlan.
For the Husker men, they will be traveling an experienced squad to the 2011 Creighton/UNO Classic, looking to capture its fourth straight team title. The men will be traveling with one lone senior Peter Falcon; Falcon will be accompanied by juniors Tommy Brinn, Dani Dapo and Grant Duffy. Also competing in the season opener are sophomores Connor Gibson, Brett Grieb, Jarren Heng, Anthony Pittman and newcomer Alney Tobias. The men's co-captains senior Jesse Adams and junior Trevor Vidlak along with seniors Brad Doering and Adam Mitteis will not be competing in the season opener in Omaha.
The meet is free to attend and open to the public. Chili Greens is located at 72nd and Spring streets in Omaha.
The Nebraska women's cross country team enters its first season of Big Ten competition with a talented and experienced collection of runners ready to challenge the top teams in the conference.
The 2011 squad returns five letterwinners from last year's group that finished eighth at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships in Peoria, Ill.
Although Nebraska must replace departed senior Lara Crofford, who was chosen NU's Most Valuable Runner each of the last four seasons, and fellow four-year letterwinner Jen Webers, Coach Jay Dirksen believes the returning Huskers are ready for the challenge of competing in the Big Ten Conference.
"Our returning runners have had a pretty good summer of training. Now that they have had another year of experience and some solid performances on the track last spring, I think we will see some improvement," Dirksen said. "We're also excited to see how much our freshmen and sophomores can contribute."
Nebraska's four returning seniors, who have combined to earn 10 cross country letters, are led by two-time co-captains Jessica Furlan (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada) and Ashley Miller (Tipton, Iowa).
Furlan was Nebraska's No. 3 finisher at both the NCAA Midwest Regional (56th) and Big 12 Championships (63rd) as a junior in 2010. She has also displayed a stellar work ethic, earning Nebraska's Most Improved Runner Award in 2009.
"Jessica competes outstandingly well and is one of the better steeplechasers in the country" Dirksen said. "She will be one of our top runners."
Miller, a 2011 CoSIDA Academic All-American, was the Huskers' No. 4 finisher at the regional championships (59th) and No. 5 finisher at the Big 12 meet (76th). On the track, Miller captured the Big 12 1,500-meter outdoor title and ran a personal-best 4:18.53 in the event at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
"Ashley was one of the top runners in the Big 12 and is going to continue to get better," Dirksen said. "She is a tremendous leader and is going to be one of the top runners."
Senior Erica Hamik was also a regular in the Huskers' top five last season. Hamik, a Kearney, Neb., native, was NU's No. 4 finisher at the Big 12 meet (68th) and No. 3 runner at each of the Huskers' first four competitions in 2010.
"Erica is a steady, strong and solid runner," Dirksen said. "She will be a factor for us this year, if her competitiveness starts to match her ability."
Katie White, a native of Broken Bow, Neb., rounds out the Huskers' senior quartet. White, who was chosen as Nebraska's Most Improved Runner in 2010. Despite battling injuries, White competed in every meet for the Huskers while earning her second letter in 2010.
"Katie has been hard struck with injuries," Dirksen said. "Her track performance really improved last spring, and I believe she will be one of our top five runners."
While the seniors will provide leadership and consistency, Martina Barinova is expected to be the Huskers' top runner on the course. The sophomore from Prerov, Czech Republic, captured all-region honors by finishing 25th at the 2010 NCAA Midwest Regional as a true freshman. Barinova added a 21st-place finish at the Big 12 Championships, after taking 44th at the Indiana State Pre-Nationals to close the regular season.
"Martina was a great addition for us last year," Dirksen said. "She has a great attitude and is a tough competitor. I believe she will be one of the top runners in the Big Ten."
Three other sophomores will hope to push for time among the top Huskers. Isabel Andrade (Tiburon, Calif.) competed for the Huskers at the Big 12 Championships, as did Sarah Plambeck (Lincoln, Neb.). Both have had solid summers of training after getting their feet wet on collegiate courses as freshmen.
"Isabel loves to run and is a hard worker. She has had a good summer of training and will have more of an impact this year if she stays healthy," Dirksen said. "Sarah has a lot of natural ability and works extremely hard. She will be one of our most improved runners, and I'm excited to see what she will do this season."
Sam Morabe (Temecula, Calif.) rounds out the group of sophomores. Morabe ran in Nebraska's first three competitions as a freshmen, and participated in both indoor and outdoor track for the Huskers. An offseason of expanded training could allow her to make a greater impact in her second season.
"Freshman year was a learning year for Sam," Dirksen said. "Her training is much improved, and we are looking for her to step it up this year."
The Huskers will be bolstered by a trio of freshmen, headlined by Milena Stoicev. The Serbian was one of the top young runners in Europe the past several seasons and could make an immediate push for a spot among Nebraska's top runners.
Fellow freshmen Hannah Edwards (Whittier, Calif.) and Sarah Larson (Lincoln Northeast) may have more of a learning curve for the Huskers this year.
The 2011 season will offer historical changes to the Nebraska men's cross country program. Not only will the 2011 campaign be the Huskers' first as a member of the Big Ten Conference, it will also be the last season for Coach Jay Dirksen.
Dirksen, who will lead the Husker cross country program for the 29th season, will retire following the 2011 campaign. Dirksen, who has coached Nebraska runners to 20 cross country All-America awards during his time in Lincoln, will hand the reins over to former Husker assistant track and field coach David Harris.
In addition to the major changes for the Huskers off the course in 2011, Nebraska will work to replace three of its top five competitors from a year ago.
David Adams, a three-year letterman and two-time team captain, leaves the biggest shoes for the Huskers to fill. Adams earned All-Midwest Region honors with an eighth-place finish at the regional in 2010. He went on to finish 135th at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. Nebraska's Most Valuable Runner in 2008, 2009 and 2010, Adams added a 21st-place finish at the 2010 Big 12 Championships.
The Huskers must also replace a pair of consistent top five runners with the departures of 2010 seniors Todd Gulizia and Anthony Oberle. Gulizia and Oberle ran for the Huskers at the Big 12 and NCAA Midwest Regional championships last season. That trio helped the Huskers to a sixth-place team finish at the Big 12 meet and a 10th-place team showing at the 2010 NCAA Midwest Regional.
Despite the losses at the top of the Husker roster, Dirksen believes his young group of Huskers are hungry to prove themselves in 2011.
"David and Anthony were our team captains last year and Todd was a major contributor for us on the course the past four years, so those guys are going to be tough to replace," Dirksen said. "But I think Jesse (Adams) and Trevor (Vidlak) are ready to step in and lead this team, and we have several young runners ready to leave their marks."
Jesse Adams and Trevor Vidlak lead the list of Nebraska's top returning runners. Adams, a senior from Ogallala, Neb., was NU's No. 2 finisher at both the Big 12 (40th) and Midwest Regional (60th) championships. Adams was one of Nebraska's top-two runners at four of the Huskers' six meets in 2010, and has assumed a role as a team co-captain for 2011.
"Jesse is one of our team leaders as a co-captain," Dirksen said. "He will be one of our top guys this season, and we are counting on him for a lot of leadership."
Vidlak, a junior from Lincoln, Neb., captured Nebraska's Most Improved Runner Award in 2010, after finishing as one of the top-four Huskers at both the Big 12 and NCAA Midwest Regional championships. After finishing 45th at the Big 12 Championships and 83rd at the regional championships, Vidlak earned his first cross country letter. He also earned a spot as one of the Huskers' co-captains for 2011.
"Trevor was the most improved guy on the team last year," Dirksen said. "He is one of our team leaders as a co-captain and will be one of the top couple of runners."
Sophomores Jarren Heng (Norfolk) and Anthony Pittman (Omaha) are both Nebraska natives who joined Adams and Vidlak among NU's top seven at the end of 2010. Heng and Pittman competed for the Huskers at the Big 12 and NCAA Midwest Regional championships, and could be poised for greater contributions in 2011.
"Jarren had a good track season and ran well in cross country last fall," Dirksen said. "He has a lot of ability, and we are expecting big things from him. "Anthony developed as a runner and got stronger as the season went on. If he stays healthy, he will be a solid runner."
Fellow sophomores Connor Gibson and Brett Grieb could also push the Huskers' top runners. Gibson (Blair) and Grieb (York) are both Nebraska natives who have shown strong work ethics and the desire to succeed on the course.
Tommy Brinn could also be ready to make a larger impact in 2011. The junior from Otsego, Mich., competed in every regular-season meet and the Big 12 Championships in 2010. He also increased his training level during the summer, according to Dirksen.
"Tommy is improving each year," Dirksen said. "He has had a much-improved summer of training, and I'm anxious to see what he can do."
A pair of experienced runners who could provide major lifts for the Huskers are seniors Brad Doering and Peter Falcon. Doering and Falcon combined to earn four letters for the Huskers in 2007 and 2008, and both had their 2009 and 2010 seasons hindered by injuries. If they can return to health, they could push for spots among NU's top runners.
"Brad has had a few injuries here and there," Dirksen said. "He is healthy now and had a good summer of training, and he has potential to be one of the top four runners. Peter has had hard luck with injuries. If he stays healthy he could be a major factor on the team."
Nebraska cross country newcomers Grant Duffy and Alney Tobias will also try to challenge for time on the course in 2011. Duffy, a transfer from Colorado, is the son of Husker cross country All-American Wally Duffy - the first All-American Dirksen coached at Nebraska.