By Stephen Hauser

Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams are looking to sweep the second half of the decade, as they are going for their fifth consecutive OVC titles. The other coaches around the OVC believe it will happen again as they voted them first in the preseason polls.The men and women’s team both received nine first place votes. On the men’s side, Southeast Missouri received a first place vote and on the women’s side Eastern Illinois received the lone remaining first place vote.

But Coach Rick Erdmann said he doesn’t really put too much stock on those polls, and instead, chooses to focus on personal goals.

“My goal for the men’s and women’s team is to be competitive in the OVC,” he said.

The women’s team is loaded with talent as they return all five of their top runners from the 2009 OVC Championship race.

Second year runner Picoty Leitich took the honor of OVC freshman of the year in 2009, winning the championship last year by more than 13 seconds.

Also returning, are seniors Sylvia Bundotich, Kat Pagano, Ashill Joseph and junior Danielle Mason.

Pagano, the team veteran leader, said that now she’s in her final year at Eastern, she has a list of goals that she wants to achieve.

“I really want to win the OVC title and receive a fourth ring,” Pagano said. “I want the team to make some headway at regional’s and be able to qualify for Nationals.”

Pagano said it would be a bittersweet year knowing that it will be her last. But she said she’s looking forward to seeing all of her teammates again and getting back into the locker room.

“I’m really sad this is my last season, but it also allowed my fellow seniors to step up and take leadership roles,” Pagano said.

The men’s team has a sizeable hurdle to jump with just one of their top five runners returning.

Despite the losses, the team still brings some experienced runners to the line, such as juniors Chris Rice, Alex Dreyer, and sophomore Daniel Jones, all of whom placed in the Top 20 at the 2009 OVC Championship race.

Rice is a veteran and will be looked upon to lead the new runners to the championship title.

“My goal is to run well and be all-region,” he said.

Rice also said he’s excited for the season to start up and can’t wait to run with his new team members. He’s also anticipating a good year to go hand-in-hand with a bigger team.

Juniors Evans Kiptoo and David Mutuse are also looking to build on personal successes. Kiptoo finished third in the 2008 OVC Cross Country Championship, and last year Mutuse redshirted last years cross county season. But expectations are high for Mutuse as he showed his running prowess during the spring’s track season. At the OVC Outdoor Track and Field Championships earlier this year, Mutuse won the 3,000-meter steeplechase. This summer, Mutuse won the Midsummer Night’s 5K in downtown Lexington, where he beat 5,000 competitors.

Freshman Soufiane Bouchikhi will also join the team this year. Bouchikhi enrolled at Eastern last winter and had a breakout year in track and field. He was named OVC Freshman of the Year after capturing three individual conference titles throughout the track season.