NDIANAPOLIS – With the calendar flipping to October, a 13-year run of dominance is quickly coming to an end as the Horizon League looks forward to crowning a new men’s cross country champion.
Whichever team finishes with the fewest points at the league championship meet on Oct. 27 at the Wayne E. Dannehl National Cross Country Course in Kinosha, Wis., will end Butler University’s decade-plus monopoly of men’s titles – a series of wins dating back to 1998. With the recently-departed Bulldogs unable to defend their title streak, a trio of front-runners is emerging as potential favorites.
In six of the past seven years, first-place Butler has been followed across the finish line by the same three teams: Loyola, and a combination of UIC and Milwaukee.
After a three-year championship streak from 1995 to 1997, Loyola finished in second place to the Bulldogs for 13 straight years. This year, the Ramblers look to finally top the podium once again.
“We’ve got a couple of guys that are improving by the day,” head coach Randy Hasenbank said of his squad on Saturday when Loyola hosted the 40th Annual Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational in Chicago. “[Senior] Oscar [Aguinaga] ran great today; we’ve seen [sophomore] Sam [Penzenstadler] run great. But overall, [today was more about] running well as a team. I thought the pack was good – we went from our first guy in 11th and our fifth guy in 27th in a deep field.”
The Ramblers men’s team finished in fourth place on Saturday, falling only to a trio of regionally ranked schools, including perennial powerhouse Wisconsin.
“The race kind of went to form: the men beat the teams that we expected to beat and that we need to beat to be where we want to be,” Hasenbank said. “The gap wasn’t too far, it wasn’t too big, but we still got beat … so we want to get better, obviously, in that regard.”
Despite a strong start to the season, Hasenbank and Loyola know that resting on their laurels isn’t an option. Both UIC and Milwaukee figure to give the Ramblers a run for their money with the conference title on the line.
UIC head coach Jim Knoedel credits his team’s strong start to competition.
“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,” Knoedel said on Saturday. “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.”
The Flames also were running at the Lakefront Invite and have now faced both Loyola and Milwaukee head-to-head this season, which could give UIC an advantage come Oct. 27.
“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.”
The 20th-place finish turned in by the Flames on Saturday could be deceiving – UIC was a runner down for the Invite and has had four student-athletes dealing with injuries this season.
“More than anything else, I just held them out as a precaution,” Knoedel said. “That’s just part of a season; you’re not always going to have everyone there. So we just have to deal that, but if we can get back to full strength – hopefully by the conference [championship] – then we should have a good performance.”
Milwaukee – the third-place finisher in 2008-2009 and fourth-place team in 2010-2011 – also figures to be nipping at Loyola’s heels in that championship race.
“I think our men’s side does have a chance to at least be competitive for the championship. The first three weeks, we didn’t run a full team in any of those three meets, so this weekend will be more indicative of what we actually have,” Milwaukee head coach Pete Corfeld said on Friday before his team ran in Saturday morning’s Greater Louisville Classic. “We’ve got some good returners, I think we’ve got some new guys that add to the team strength, so I’m looking forward … to [seeing] where we stand in that regard.”
The Panthers placed 16th at the Classic, led by senior Jake Reilly’s fourth-place finish.
Milwaukee may have a slight edge over either team in the conference meet due to the fact that the race is being held just south of the school’s campus.
“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,” 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.”
Hasenbank wasn’t so quick to hand 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,” the Loyola coach said. “We have a lot of student-athletes on our squad that have been on that course, of course Milwaukee has a lot that have been on it and I’m sure UIC has a fair number of athletes that have been on that course as well. We all have a fair amount of familiarity with that course, which will make it interesting.”
Whether that familiarity will come into play or not remains to be seen, but it is a safe bet that the Horizon League men’s cross country championship will be highly competitive and a sure thing that there will be a new champion crowned for the first time in 13 years.
“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 we’ve still got Loyola and UIC to deal with –and who knows what some of the teams that were just behind us have now.”
Tags: Horizon League - Cross Country · Loyola - Cross Country · Milwaukee - Cross Country · UIC - Cross Country