MOUNT PLEASANT - With six of the top seven runners from 2011 back for another go-around, the veteran 2012 men’s cross country team has a Mid-American Conference Championship in its sights.
The Chippewas - the top MAC team in the Great Lakes Regional with a seventh-place finish and the runners-up at the MAC Championship Meet in 2011 - return the majority of their scoring lineup while adding talented newcomers to the mix in hopes of improving upon their post-season marks from last season.
“That feeling of being a runner-up is definitely a humbling experience, but it also keeps you hungry,” director of track and field and cross country Willie Randolph said. “They are working toward getting back to dominating the conference, doing some great things regionally, and getting back to the national scene.
“Those guys work hard, are dedicated and are focused, and they’re reaping the rewards.”
The latest preseason polls from the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association rank the Chippewas as the ninth-ranked team in the Great Lakes region, and the top-ranked MAC team in the region. Rival and defending MAC Champion Eastern Michigan is just behind in 10th.
Pacing the Maroon and Gold and providing senior leadership will be senior Jason Drudge, a back-to-back first-team All-MAC finisher the past two seasons. Drudge finished sixth overall at the 8K MAC Championships in a career-best time of 24:41.8 last season.
Sophomore Kyle Stacks also figures to make a strong run for All-MAC honors in 2012. In 2011, Stacks was the top freshman finisher at the Great Lakes Regional after crossing the line 34th overall and second for the Chippewas. He finished 21 spots ahead of Big Ten Freshman of the Year David Madrigal of Michigan State.
Like Drudge, senior Matt Lutzke will be a key leader for the Chippewas. Lutzke finished as the fourth Chippewa at both the MAC Championships and the Great Lakes Regional, where he set a career-best in the cross country 10K with a time of 32:03.7.
Sophomore Ethan Lievense, following an outdoor track season in which he finished third in the 3,000m steeplechase at the MAC Championships, will be a key contributor. Like Stacks, he shows significant promise in just his second season of competition.
Junior Nathan Huff will look to build on a strong end to the 2011 cross country season, when he set career-best marks in the 8K and 10K races with times of 24:59.0 and 32:06.3, respectively.
The veterans will be joined by a host of newcomers and formerly redshirted runners, whose roles will be determined as the season progresses.
The season opens with the Jeff Drenth Memorial at Pleasant Valley Golf Course in Mount Pleasant at 10 a.m., in honor of the former CMU distance running great and Olympics hopeful who died unexpectedly in 1986.
The schedule also features two trips to defending men’s national champions Wisconsin for the Badger Opener (Sep. 7) and the Great Lakes Regional (Nov. 9), and meets at Big Ten opponents Michigan State (Sep. 14) and Minnesota (Sep. 29).
Buffalo will host the MAC Championships on Oct. 27, and the Chippewas will attempt to qualify for the National Championships either as a team or individually at the Great Lakes Regional.
The NCAA Championships will be held in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 17.