A boatload of experience returns for head coach Mike Straubel and the Valparaiso men’s cross country program in 2010, as the Crusaders graduated just one runner who ran among the team’s top-five at any point last season. This seasoned group of veteran Crusaders is taking aim at a move up the Horizon League ladder this season.
A trio of seniors will guide the pack of Valpo runners this year, led by Joel Hartenberger. The New Mexico native led the Crusaders in four of their six races last year and picked up a pair of top-ten finishes in the Crusader Open and the Commodore Classic. Hartenberger also ran a career-best 8K time of 26:11 at the Notre Dame Invitational. He is joined by fellow seniors Chris Bednarczyk and Keith Button, each of whom ran at five meets for Valpo as juniors.
Three of Valpo’s top-five runners from the 2009 campaign return among the four-member junior class. Jordan Piaskowy finished among the Crusaders’ top-five in all six meets last season, pacing Valpo at the Horizon League Championships. Nick Fagan contributed to the Crusader team score four times, including a second-place finish among Valpo runners at Notre Dame, where he ran a career-best 8K time of 27:28.
Blane Bowen also was among Valpo’s top-five on four occasions last season, running a career-best 8K time of 27:53 at the Bradley Classic, where he was the third Crusader across the line. Mack Morris also returns for his junior season after competing just twice as a sophomore.
Five Crusaders with sophomore eligibility return for 2010, including a pair of juniors academically. Redshirt sophomore Patrick Johnson finished just three races in his first season as a Crusader, but contributed to the team score twice and was the second-fastest Valpo runner at the Horizon League Championships. Caleb Schmal ran five times in his first season of competition in 2009, posting a season-best 8K time of 28:05 at the Bradley Classic.
Of the true sophomores, Wally Bradford impressed the most in his rookie season, finishing among Valpo’s top-five in three of his six races and leading the Crusader pack at Bradley, where he crossed the line in 27:05. Nathan Bluhm and Joe Johnson each ran four times for the Crusaders as freshmen as well. Valpo also adds a trio of newcomers to round out the 2010 squad.
The Crusader Open will be contested for the 22nd time in 2010, and for the 17th straight year it will serve as Valpo’s season-opening meet. Action at Sunset Hills Farm tomorrow begins at 5:45 p.m. with a 6K course.
Two weeks later, Valpo makes the short trip to West Lafayette to compete at the Indiana Intercollegiates, while on Oct. 1, a brief jaunt to the east is in the cards as the Crusaders will run at the Notre Dame Invitational. Valpo’s final tuneup comes on Oct. 16 as it travels downstate to cover the course at the Evansville Invitational.
With four races under their belts, the Crusaders will aim to be peaking for the 2010 Horizon League Championships, hosted this year by Cleveland State University and scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 30. The NCAA Great Lakes Regional is slated to be run Saturday, Nov. 13 in Bloomington, Ind., and if any Crusaders qualify for the NCAA Cross Country Championships, they would compete Monday, Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind.