For over a decade, there was a near-forgone conclusion to the Horizon League cross country championships: Butler wins.
Butler lorded over cross country with a domination not seen before in the Horizon League. For 14 straight years, the Bulldogs won the men’s team title. They featured the men’s medalist for 15 years in a row, dating back to 1997.
The odds weren’t much better on the women’s side. Since 1995, Butler won 13 team titles. The only other team to earn a victory was Loyola -- with a paltry three wins. Individually, nine of the 17 medalists since 1995 had been Bulldogs, including each of the three most recent winners and seven of the past nine.
But now Butler is gone and the Horizon League will soon crown a new champion.
Which team will be the next top dog? The smart money is on Loyola, an institution that had seen success in the early- to mid-1990s but has spent most of the past decade-plus playing second fiddle.
The Ramblers men’s team won three team championships from 1995-97, then finished in second place in twelve of the next fourteen seasons. The best result came in 2001, when Loyola earned a first-place tie with Butler.
The women fared slightly better, breaking up Butler’s monopoly on championships in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Individually, a Rambler finished first in 1998, 1999 and 2001. Still, Butler’s accomplishments effectively outshone those of Loyola for the better part of a decade and a half.
Loyola’s victory is not a sure thing, however, and there is competition for the Ramblers in both races.
On the men’s side, inter-city rival UIC looks to turn in an upset performance. Though the Flames have never won a men’s title, UIC finished in third in 1999, 2005, 2010 and 2011 and placed fourth in 2002, 2008 and 2009.
The Flames were also the only team besides Loyola to finish in second place during the past decade-plus, snagging the runner-up position in 2006.
This year, UIC wants to win it all -- and may just have the ability to do so.
“I think that part of it is that at any time, just about any guy thinks he can be the No. 1 runner on the team, so there’s a lot of competition for that top spot, and I think the competition is making them better as a team,” UIC head coach Jim Knoedel said of his squad. “If I constantly see [them finishing in] the same order, then I know they’re not trying, but it’s constantly changing, so I know that’s a good sign.”
Also looking to contend for the men’s title is host Milwaukee. The Panthers were the third-place finisher in 2008-2009 and fourth-place team in 2010-2011.
In addition to the potential for a team title, Milwaukee could have the favorite for the individual champion in senior Jake Reilly, a three-time Horizon League Runner of the Week in 2012.
Reilly and the Panthers could bank on home-course advantage to help propel them in the championship meet. Milwaukee runs its home meets at the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course on the campus of UW-Parkside.
“Parkside Course has held numerous championships and competitions. The Big East [championship] was there two years ago, Marquette hosted it there; it’s had regional meets, they’ve had [national championships for] Division II, Division III, NAIA. It’s a really nice, championship-level course,” Panthers head coach Pete Corfeld said. “Most of my kids have run on it throughout their high school careers as well, so it’s like really a home course for them. They really enjoy it a lot from doing that over the years, so I think that bodes well, too.”
Loyola wasn’t so quick to turn over home-course advantage to Milwaukee, however.
“So many of these teams with Midwestern rosters have run that course in high school or already during their college careers,” Loyola coach Randy Hasenbank said. “We have a lot of student-athletes on our squad that have been on that course. We all have a fair amount of familiarity with that course, which will make it interesting.”
What, then, could be UIC’s advantage? The Flames ran head-to-head against both Loyola and Milwaukee this season.
“We’ve raced Milwaukee and been able to come out on top; we’ve raced Loyola and haven’t been able to come out on top,” Knoedel said. “Certainly that’s our goal: to be the top team. It’s going to be a challenge, because right now [Loyola is] a far superior team to us, but I think if we continue to work hard then we can challenge them a little bit.”
UIC also has freshmen Pat Niyork (the League’s Runner of the Week on Oct. 8) and Billy Clink (Sept. 4) who could challenge Reilly for the individual championship. Loyola sophomore Sam Penzenstadler could also be in that mix -- he was the Runner of the Week on Sept. 17.
In the women’s race, there is no clear-cut competition for Loyola when it comes to the team title. However, potential individual favorite Gina Valgoi -- a Ramblers senior and the Sept. 17 Runner of the Week -- faces a bevy of contenders for medalist honors.
Valparaiso sophomore Jessica Richardson earned the Runner of the Week title twice in 2012 and will look to be the first Crusader to place first since Laura Rolf took back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009.
Other contenders include Detroit senior Katrina Oberski, the Sept. 4 Runner of the Week; Green Bay freshman Sarah Mauel, who won the honor Sept. 10; Cleveland State sophomore Tori Holt, the Sept. 24 honoree; and UIC freshman Emma Preston, the Oct. 8 Horizon League Runner of the Week.
No matter which team rises to the top of the podium or which individual cross the finish line first, one thing is certain: Butler’s reign is over. It is time for a new era to begin.
“The way I look at it, Butler’s out, everybody moves up a notch,” Corfeld said. “It’s a pretty big deal for [Butler] to not be around anymore, with the history, but ... who knows what some of the teams that were just behind have now?”
Tags: Cleveland State - Cross Country · Detroit - Cross Country · Green Bay - Cross Country · Horizon League - Cross Country · Loyola - Cross Country · Milwaukee - Cross Country · UIC - Cross Country · Valparaiso - Cross Country · Wright State - Cross Country · Youngstown State - Cross Country