After a 2020-2021 season that was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Friday will mark a return to normalcy for the Valparaiso University men’s and women’s cross country teams.
The program will kick off the season with its annual home meet, now known as the Winrow Open, with the women’s 5K beginning at 5 p.m. and the men’s 6K to follow at 5:45 at Sunset Hill Farm County Park in Valparaiso.
“Returning to a normal competition schedule helps the level of motivation in training,” Valpo head coach Mike Straubel said. “We can train with more purpose and prepare for the conference meet the right way. Last year, with the conference championship being the only meet, we weren’t able to prepare the way we normally would during the regular season.”
The hosts will be joined by Notre Dame, Purdue and Green Bay to form a competitive field at Friday’s meet. In the men’s Great Lakes Region preseason rankings, Notre Dame is first and Purdue is sixth. On the women’s side, Notre Dame is fourth and Purdue is eighth. The Fighting Irish men placed second in last year’s NCAA Championship. In addition, the Notre Dame men are ranked second nationally and their women are 19th in the preseason poll.
“With the full season back, we are going to use the home meet as a way to launch our preparation plan for the most important meets at the end of the season, the conference and regional meets,” Straubel said. “This year, with the personnel and depth that we have, we will employ good pack running to work on elevating our fourth and fifth runners. Whether or not we beat the other teams won’t be the measure of our success on Friday, instead we will be evaluating how we execute our race plan in order to set ourselves up for the end of the season.”
This marks the 32nd running of the Valpo home meet, which served as the season-opening meet for 26 consecutive years prior to the one-year hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19. Notre Dame is the defending (2019) champion for both men’s and women’s. This will represent the first installment of the event under its new name, the Winrow Open. The meet was renamed in honor of former Valpo head cross country coach Ed Winrow, who passed away in March 2020.
“I met Coach Winrow a few times and he was a dynamic personality who was respected and loved by the people he coached,” Straubel said. “When he passed away, the tributes that his former student-athletes exchanged were awe inspiring. I thought it was appropriate to give the meet a name that recognized his accomplishments and what he meant to our program.”
Junior Eric Carothers (Fishers, Ind. / Hamilton Southeastern) and senior Ignacio Veloz Bonilla (San Juan, P.R. / American Military Academy) are expected to lead the way for the Valpo men this season. Carothers earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors last season while also collecting the MVC Elite 17 Award and MVC Scholar-Athlete First Team status.
“Both Eric and Ignacio are strong candidates to compete for all-conference this season,” Straubel said. “A large number of our team members came back to campus in great shape and early workouts suggest that our depth will be strong.”
On the women’s side, the Beacons are led by sophomore Grace Aurand (Highland, Ind. / Highland), who cracked the track & field program record book in the outdoor 1,500-meter run by ranking fourth in Valpo history as a freshman last season. Senior Alaina Carpenter (Grandville, Mich. / Grandville), senior Maranda Donahue (Delton, Mich. / Delton-Kellogg), sophomore Ellie Roeglin (Delafield, Wis. / Lake County Lutheran) and sophomore Joely Overstreet (Genoa, Ill. / Genoa-Kingston) comprise a solid group behind Aurand.
“Grace has led the way in workouts, but we’re also excited about the group of four behind her,” Straubel said. “Those four are close, so our race plan is to get them working together and pushing one another to finish as high as possible.”