Spring Hill College Cross Country Head Coach Joe Williams finds himself in an enviable position headed into his first season at the helm of the Badgers. His men's team features two runners that qualified for the 2008 NAIA National Championships and his women's team has the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) Female Runner of Year returning for her sophomore season. Not many coaches can boast of such a talented roster entering their first campaign.
For the Badger men, brothers Mark and Will Kirkikis from Kenner, La., return after All-GCAC seasons in 2008 and qualifying for the NAIA National Championships. Mark, a senior, is the Badgers' most experienced runner and Will, a sophomore, was the second SHC finisher in every meet of last season. Also returning are brothers junior David Otero and sophomore Brian Otero of Miami, Fla., along with sophomores Christian Boyer of Mobile and Brandon Arquette of Simpsonville, S.C.
Junior Sean Christie from New Orleans joins the squad following two years with the SHC men's soccer team and senior Austin Fox of Dothan, Ala., will look to bounce back after missing his junior year due to injury.
Williams also looks for two freshmen to make an immediate impact on the team. John Redman and Garrett Schumacher, both from Spanish Fort, Ala., have proven themselves to be ready for collegiate competition. "Both Redman and Garrett have shown very strong work ethics," says Williams. "I expect both of them to be in the front of the pack." Other freshmen looking to make their mark will be Bryan Dulion of Pensacola, Fla., Alec Rawlings from Decatur, Ala., Thomas Kinsey of Fairhope, Ala., Gabriel Wagner of Paisley, Fla., Matthew Mayeaux of Long Beach, Miss., and Ben Pace from Dallas, Texas.
On the women's team, sophomore Kate Imwalle of Mobile's McGill-Toolen Catholic High School set numerous SHC records and won the 2008 GCAC Women's Individual Championship last season. Senior Kari Wolfe of Cottonwood, Ala., also returns with her four years of experience. Junior Lynne Fritscher from Covington, La., does double duty for the Badgers also playing for Coach Hans Laub's tennis team in the spring. St. Louis, Mo., native Ceci Venker scored in numerous events for the Badgers in 2008 and should continue to be a major factor in the new year. Sophomores Ashley Derenbecker of Bay St. Louis, Miss, and Emily Stewart of Mt. Joliet, Tenn., have shown the ability shine and Williams expects great things from them.
Three former SHC runners return to the fold after missing 2008. Senior Kayla Fox of Dothan, the twin sister of Austin Fox from the men's squad, has recovered from hip problems and looks to finish her career with a strong showing. Mobile natives juniors Blakely Duhé and Lizzie Coppejans have also rejoined the team and should make an immediate contribution.
Freshman Celia Piccini from Grand Bay, Ala., Kiearstan Carter from Mobile and Julie Sellers of Lafayette, La., have each impressed Williams with their dedication and team spirit. "The future for Spring Hill running is bright," he says. "The enthusiasm is contagious and hopefully it will produce great results in practice and in competition."
The 2009 season kicks off on Saturday as the Badgers travel to Troy University.