Senior-Laden Squad Takes to the Course in 2009 for Crusaders
Sara Christensen placed in all six races for Valpo last season. (Ray Acevedo)
Senior-Laden Squad Takes to the Course in 2009 for Crusaders
Thursday, September 03, 2009

While the Valparaiso women’s cross country team lost one of the top runners in program history in Laura Rolf to graduation following last season, a ton of experience returns for the 2009 campaign, as everybody else who finished among the Crusaders’ top-five runners in any meet last year is back, including six seniors.

Whitney Bowman returns for her third season as a Valpo runner after improving vastly over the course of the 2008 campaign.  Bowman ended up placing for the Crusaders in four meets last season, including a season-best 5K time of 19:25.65 at the Evansville Invitational, which was over 85 seconds faster than her career-best 5K entering the 2008 season.  She also put together perhaps her finest performance of the year at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, where she was the third-fastest Crusader runner, completing the 8K in 24:47.4.

True senior Alyssa Bradford is back for her final year, coming off a year in which she competed in all six races for Valpo, placing twice.  Bradford surpassed her then career-best 5K at the Indiana Intercollegiates with a time of 20:19 and then cut 35 seconds more off that time next time out at Notre Dame, finishing the race in 19:44.

Sara Christensen is back for her third season after placing for the Crusaders in all six races in 2008, including finishing as Valpo’s second-fastest runner on four occasions.  Christensen broke the 20-minute barrier in all five 5K races on the year after not having surpassed the barrier in her first season as a Crusader, including a season-best time of 19:04.01 at the Evansville Invitational.  She also posted a top-25 finish at the Horizon League Championships, helping the Crusaders to a fourth-place team finish.

Lindsey Gilman stepped right into the team in her first season on the squad after previously playing volleyball and running track, scoring for the Crusaders in all six races despite not having run cross country at any level prior to last year.  Gilman was the second-fastest Crusader in her first career race at the Crusader Open, one of three sub-20 minute performances for her on the year.  Her season-best time came at the Evansville Invitational, where she crossed the line in 19:10.04.

Windy Santa Cruz returns for her third year on the Crusader cross country team.  She competed in five races for Valpo last year, slashing 86 seconds off her career-best 5K time with an outing of 21:06 at the Notre Dame Invitational.  Caitlin Sauerhage is the final Crusader senior.  She raced five times for the Crusaders in 2008, finishing among Valpo’s top-five on four occasions, including finishing as the second-fastest Crusader at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional with an 8K time of 24:39.5.

Junior Jorie Ballun is back for her third season as a Crusader after racing three times for Valpo last year.  Ballun cut nearly 43 seconds off of her career-best 5K time with a 21:55.43 performance at the Evansville Invitational.  Sophomore Kristine Clay also returns after a freshman campaign in which she competed in all six races for the Crusaders, placing twice.  Her season-best 5K time of 20:08 came at the season-opening Crusader Open, while she also scored for Valpo at the Horizon League Championships.

The Crusaders also welcome three newcomers to the 2009 squad.  Junior Anna Urish joins the team after not running cross country in her first two seasons at Valpo, while Rensselaer, Ind. native Haley Kerlin and Elburn, Ill. native Ali Olson are running as true freshmen this year.

Valparaiso will open the season at home for the 16th consecutive year in one of four races to prepare for the Horizon League Championships.  Now in its 21st season, the Crusader Open will be contested over the course at Sunset Hills Farm on Friday, Sept. 4 to kick off the campaign.

Two weeks later, the Crusaders will travel down to Nashville, Tenn. to run in the Commodore Classic on Saturday, Sept. 19, hosted by Vanderbilt.  A shorter trip is on the docket for Friday, Oct. 2, as Valpo heads east to take part in the Notre Dame Invitational.  Friday, Oct. 16 concludes the regular season, as the Crusaders cross the state line to the west to run at the Bradley Classic.

With those four races under their belts, the Crusaders will aim to peak at the Horizon League Championships, contested this year at Kensington Metropark in Milford, Mich. on Saturday, Oct. 31, hosted by Detroit.  The NCAA Great Lakes Regional is slated to be run Saturday, Nov. 14 in Bloomington, Ind., and if any Crusaders qualify for the NCAA Cross Country Championships, they would compete Monday, Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.

The Crusaders enter the 2009 campaign with the knowledge that they have proven contributors up and down the roster.  If somebody steps up and takes the place atop the lineup, Valpo could be in line to challenge for one of the top spots in the Horizon League this season.