The Valparaiso University men’s and women’s cross country teams have a distinct sense of optimism and confidence heading into their second season as members of the Missouri Valley Conference.
It’s obvious to 32nd-year head coach Mike Straubel that his runners are very motivated ahead of the 2018-2019 campaign.
“Everything seems positive and upbeat,” he said. “A few little nagging injuries always occur with the start of training, but when everyone gets together at the start of the year, we begin training at a much higher level.”
One the Crusaders who has battled through the injury bug is Taylor Justison (Chatham, Ill./Glenwood), who now returns to running first ahead of her team’s inaugural meet, alongside her co-captain Katherine Germann (Cincinnati, Ohio/Finneytown). Germann will look to continue a trend of yearly improvement, as she cut down her 2016 Crusader Open time by 39 seconds last year, finishing in 19:39.6.
Straubel was also impressed at how a number of the younger runners on the women’s side have acclimated themselves to the change of scenery running at the collegiate level.
“Our women’s team is very young,” he said. “Based on time trials and workouts, we could have as many as three freshmen in our Top 5. I definitely think we’ll do better than last year, we’ll just have to see how these freshmen continue to adapt.”
As for the men, Straubel explained that he will be taking precautionary measures on the injury front, holding out redshirt junior Jack Mader (Granger, Ind./Penn) from running in the first race of the season. Mader has been nursing an injury that Straubel hopes to mitigate potential further damage to by keeping him out of Friday’s Crusader Open.
However, Straubel is optimistic that Mader’s absence in the Crusader Open will not deter any of his other runners from going out and competing their hardest.
“We’re going to test ourselves a little bit the first meet with the men,” he said. “We want to go out, race aggressively, go with everybody in the lead pack and race to win. After the race, we will assess where we’re at and what our best racing strategy is going forward.”
Both the men’s and women’s cross country squads begin the season on Friday with the 30th running of the Crusader Open. This marks the 25th consecutive year that the event has opened the season. Teams from Notre Dame, Purdue and the Western Michigan women’s team will join the Crusaders in the meet field. The women’s race will start at 5 p.m. Central Time, and the men’s race begins at 5:45 p.m.