High expectations for women’s cross-country, elite runner needed for men’s team as season begins

The women’s team returns with defending NCAA champion Karissa Schweizer aiming at the NCAA Midwest Regionals title for the second year in a row.

Maneater File Photo

With the return of NCAA cross-country champion senior Karissa Schweizer, Missouri cross-country is already on the national radar.

The Southeastern Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll released Monday had the women’s team ranked second, behind only four-time defending conference champion Arkansas. In the NCAA Midwest Region, the Mizzou women are ranked first.

The women’s team, which won the NCAA Midwest Regional meet and produced two All-Americans last season, is looking to improve on its national ranking of 16th, coach Marc Burns said.

“When you have a returning national champion and two returning All-Americans, it’s pretty hard [to underestimate that],” Burns said. “When you have Jamie [Kempfer] and Karissa paving the way, that’s huge.”

The return of many top female runners from last year’s successful season leaves reason to believe the team’s ability to achieve is the same, if not better.

Kempfer, with her All-American title from last season, will play a major role as well. She placed 27th in the NCAA championship meet.

The men’s team, however, will have to rely a bit more on its incoming Tigers. The team, which finished sixth at the 2016 SEC Championships, did not advance to the NCAA Championship and was ranked sixth in the SEC in Monday’s preseason poll.

“The women were just better,” Burns said. “We just didn’t have any low sticks on the guy’s side. So yes, we are working on front runners for the guys, but I don’t see that Karissa on the guy’s side yet.”

Burns said his goal for the men was to advance to the NCAA Championship this upcoming season, but that will be more difficult with the graduation of many top runners who.

However, redshirt senior Marc Dubrick and redshirt junior Zach Cook are returning, and All-SEC Freshmen Team redshirt sophomore Michael Widmann will aim to improve on his successful first season.

Notable among new recruits on the men’s side is freshman Austin Hindman, who was the 2017 Gatorade Missouri Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

“He’s perhaps the most heralded high school runner in the history of the state of Missouri,” Burns said.

Hindman set the Missouri state record April in the 3,200-meter run at the Arcadia Invitational with a time of 8:43.40 and currently holds the second-fastest time in the nation.

But overall, Burns said the men’s team’s progress will be gradual.

As Schweizer begins her last year of eligibility, she carries the weight of national focus on her, along with two more national championships from track season. But she’s focusing on her running.

“Obviously, my goals are still really high,” she said. “But I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. Just focusing more on doing all the little things and keeping myself healthy.”

And it is the “little things” that Burns will also focus on to find a male front runner and the next runner to fill Schweizer’s shoes once she leaves.

“It’s hard to tell who,” Burns said. “I don’t know even last year before the season if we predicted Karissa would have the year she had.”

Manifesting Schweizer’s potential, Burns said, was never a conscious action he took.

“You just continue to focus on the little things, and new people emerge. That’s just the fun in what we do.”

The cross-country season will begin at the JK Gold Invitational in Wichita, Kansas on Saturday.

Edited by Joe Noser | Jnoser@themaneater.com

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