The Missouri Valley Conference cross country coaches have spoken, and the Illinois State’s women’s team has been selected as the favorite to win the conference for the third-straight year.
Despite the respect of his fellow coaches, reigning Coach of the Year Jeff Bovee insists that preseason polls can be a little biased toward history.
“Preseason polls are based on tradition and last year’s results, along with the fact that we have just about everybody back. But polls don’t mean a whole lot; we’re just in the process of trying to get better,” Bovee said.
The Redbird women returning are Rachael Brewer, Kim Christensen and Kelly McShea, three of the team’s four all-conference runners from last season. The only runner who is not returning is Elise Sigg, who recently graduated.
Krista DeCeault also returns to the team after redshirting the 2012 season. She earned All-Valley runner-up honors in 2011 and is excited about the group dynamic.
“We have a strong pack of top women, but to be competitive at the regional and national level, we need depth as well, so right now the women are working hard to create that depth that we need for success as a team,” DeCeault said.
DeCeault also said that coach Bovee does a great job of keeping the team motivated for more than just conference titles.
“We have high goals for this year, they’re achievable if we continue with our hunger. We want more success at the conference and regional level. We know we can be successful at the regional level, but now it’s become, ‘What about nationals?’ So keeping our goals high is something that coach Bovee is motivating us [to do],” she said.
Another runner for the Redbird women is Kristen Zillmer, a senior who has made her name after competing last season in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
When asked what it will take to repeat as champions for the third-straight year, coach Bovee said the team just has to stay focused on themselves.
“We can’t worry about other teams, just work well as a team, and have good race strategies. We really need to keep ourselves healthy and fit,” he said.
On the men’s side, the Valley coaches picked the Redbirds to finish fourth behind Southern Illinois, Indiana State, and Loyola, respectively.
The Redbird men finished sixth in the Valley last season, but with eight new runners, the coaches are expecting them to be much improved.
The ISU men’s team returns Ryan Rutherford, a junior who was the team’s top runner last season, earning all-conference honors. Rutherford’s highlight race was the Illinois Intercollegiate, where he finished with his season-best time of 24:25 in an 8K of the year and placed second of 339 runners.
Both teams open up the new season at 6 p.m. on Friday with the Hawkeye Invitation in Iowa City, Iowa.