Returners to fuel BU runners
The growing pains of the 2004 season for the Baker University men's and women's cross country teams should pay off in 2005.
The men's team returns five runners, while the women's team brings back three from last year's squads. Head coach Rob Mallinder said the combination of the experience the teams gained last year with a strong incoming freshman class could provide better results for the teams.
For the women, senior Blair Spencer, of Alma, should be the team's top runner after battling health issues at the end of last season. Mallinder said if Spencer stays healthy, she is capable of impressive results.
"If Blair stays healthy from an illness standpoint, she'll definitely be our top runner," he said. "Based on her ability, she definitely has the ability to make it to nationals."
The women's team also returns sophomores Joanna Schaefer and Krystal Highfill, who finished 23rd and 52nd in the 2004 Heart of America Athletic Conference Championship.
Amber Keith, of Shawnee, and Katie James, of DeSoto, are Baker's top newcomers. Keith finished 31st at the Class 5A state cross country meet. James ran a 13:41.4 at 4A state.
"There's a lot of incoming freshmen that have run 12 minutes for a two mile in cross country," he said. "They're all about the same ability as people such as (former Baker runners) Jenny Schultz, Molly Humphries or (senior) Jessica Barrand coming out of high school -- it's just a matter of seeing what they do once they compete in college."
For the men, senior Aaron Jewell, of Wellsville, and four sophomores return from a team that placed sixth last year in the conference. Mallinder said with a year of experience the members of the team should run stronger this year.
"We will definitely have a team that will run faster as a team, whether or not we will improve on our sixth place, I can't say," the Baker coach said.
Zac Towns, a freshman from Baldwin City, may be among the team's top runners, Mallinder said. Towns finished seventh in the Class 4A state cross country championship while helping Baldwin High School to its seventh straight state title. Towns and fellow freshman Alex Dingman, of Topeka, may be leading the Wildcats by the end of the year
"I would expect all of the returners to be in a pack -- I'm hoping that our incoming freshmen will actually be the ones leading the pack," Mallinder said.
"We're definitely better than last year without a doubt," he said. "With a little bit more work and maturity from the sophomores and the fact that the freshmen coming in are better talent-wise than the freshmen last year, I think we should do OK. We'll definitely make improvements over what we did last year."
Sept. 3 -- Maple Leaf Invitational, Baldwin City
Sept. 9 -- at Friends Invitational, Wichita
Sept. 25 -- at Greater Louisville Classic, Louisville, Ky.
Oct. 1 -- OSU Cowboy Jamboree, Stillwater, Okla.
Oct. 15 -- Chile Pepper Festival, Fayetteville, Ark.
Oct. 29 -- HAAC Championship, Fayette, Mo.
Nov. 5 -- Region V Championship, Fayette, Mo.
Nov. 19 -- NAIA National Championship, Louisville, Ky.