By Jonathan Stark
Eastern’s cross-country team is looking to 3-peat as conference champs this fall and the rest of the conference thinks they will do it. Both the men’s and women’s teams were recently picked to sweep the OVC championships for the third straight year. The men’s team received nine out of 10 first place votes and 81 total points. Morehead was a distant second with one first place vote and 64 points. UT Martin and Tennessee State brought up the rear with 18 and 10 points, respectively.
The women are also favorites to win the conference getting nine out of 10 first place votes as well. The Murray State Racers were picked to finish second. Tennessee State and UT Martin were the bottom two schools in women’s as well.
Head coach Rick Erdman isn’t focused on the preseason awards, though.
“I didn’t like that fact that we were voted first in cross country,” Erdman said. “Samford was voted first in the women’s last year. It puts a certain amount of pressure on them. I don’t make a big deal about it.”
The men’s cross country team will be running without perhaps their best runner of all time this fall. Jacob Korir, a three time all-American, graduated this past spring.
“When you lose someone like Korir, it’s difficult to replace them,” Erdman said.
Despite losing their best runner, the Colonels still have a lot of talent to pull from. Joseph Maina, who finished a close second to Korir in the EKU Open, WKU Invitational, Samford Invitational, and the OVC championships, will lead the group.
Juniors Elkana Kurgat and Chris Rengifo will back up Maina. Both finished in the top 15 at last year’s championships.
The team also added Stanley Mugo to its roster. Mugo transferred to Eastern in January, and he’ll run cross-country this fall after finishing a stellar track and field season in the spring.
Erdamn expects Maina, Kurgat, Rengifo and Mugo to be key components in the team’s success.
Senior Alli McMaster who had a fourth place finish at last year’s championships will lead the women. McMaster had three top five finishes last season. The women may not have as much depth as the men but senior Barbara Phelan should give them the boost they need to succeed.
Katherine Pagano ran track in the spring and will join the cross-country team this fall. Coach Erdman said he thinks Pagano and the other veteran runners will do well, but expects the team’s success to depend on its newest members.
“For the women the key factor will be how much contribution we get from the incoming class. With our men.we have some experience back,” Erdman said. “As the season progresses hopefully we will improve. We’ll try to meet our objectives at the end of October and get to the regionals in November.”
If the two teams do sweep the OVC championships and finish this season the way they did last season, Erdmann could be receiving his 37th OVC Coach of the Year award.
The Colonels will start their 2008 campaign tomorrow in Richmond at the EKU vs. Marshall relay. The relay begins at noon.
“It’ll be interesting to see who’s in shape, who trained over the summer,” Erdman said. “We’ll find that out Friday afternoon.