Spring Hill College men's and women's cross country head coach Joe H. Williams looks forward to the start of the 2012 season, but for different reasons with each squad. His women's team is comprised of experienced runners mixed with talented newcomers while his men's team is made up of young and enthusiastic runners hungry to make an impact.
"On our women's team, we are deeper than in past years," Williams says. "In the past, we only had two or three upper echelon runners featured, but this year we are six to seven runners deep."
Williams points to freshman runner Makena Lidie of Lake Forest, Calif., as reason for his optimism. "Makena will be a record setter at Spring Hill," he says. "When we add her to the experience of seniors Kiearstan Carter from Mobile's Murphy High School, Payton Tanner from Fairhope, Ala., and Melissa Menendez of Miami, Fla., and junior Emily Dolan from McGill-Catholic High School in Mobile, we will have five top runners." Williams sees freshmen Anna Gable and Katie Dolan both from McGill-Toolen as solid sixth and seventh runners.
Juniors Anna DeWine of Cedarville, Ohio, and Claire Stewart of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., together with sophomore Esperanza Pace of Murphy High are also running well in the early workouts.
"We have a real opportunity to finish as one of the top two teams at the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) Championships this fall," says Williams. "The top two teams now earn automatic bids to the NAIA National Championships and I've told our women that our goal this year is to make it to nationals."
The men's team is young with ten of 14 runners being freshmen and sophomores. "I'm cautiously optimistic about this season for our men," Williams says. "The fire is there and they want to do well. It's encouraging that when we run on 'hard days' [practices imitating meet conditions] we are consistently running as a pack at the finish."
Sophomore John Russell of Cullman, Ala., and freshman Jordan Travis of Poplarville, Miss., will battle it out for the top spot among the men this year, Sophomores Ben Fleming of Metairie, La., Ben Redman of Spanish Fort, and Conner Kirkikis of Kenner, La., find themselves in what Williams characterizes as a "dogfight" for the third through seventh spots with Baton Rouge, La., freshmen Conner Bueche and Brennan McLean.
Senior Ben Pace of Dallas, Texas, juniors Fritz Boudreaux of Pensacola, Fla., Jesus Fuentes of Opelousas, La., and Eric Mooney of Willoughby Hills, Ohio, will join sophomore Michael Anderson of Marietta, Ga., and freshmen Phillip Travis of Poplarville and Patrick Lameka of Chicago, Ill., as competitors for a scoring position each time the Badgers run.
"Our men should finish in the top five of the conference," says Williams. "If they do the right things and keep working hard, I expect us to be in the top three or four with a shot at second. It should be a bright season for both our teams."
The Badgers will open the 2012 season at the Loyola University Wolf Pack Classic in New Orleans, La., on Saturday with the women's race at 8 a.m. and the men's gun at 8:30 a.m.