College Corner: St. Francis men’s cross country team running out front
By Dennis Nelson For Sun-Times Media September 12, 2013 9:40PM
Mike Blaszczyk, University of St. Francis cross country. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:10AM
The University of St. Francis men’s cross country team is the defending NAIA national champion. It’s no surprise the Saints were the preseason No. 1 team in the country heading into the 2013 season.
The Saints return five of their top seven runners under second-year coach Jeff Barker: seniors Mike Blaszczyk, Jake Ferris and Dylan Reyes, junior Matt Peacock and sophomore Brandon Carson. Blaszczyk and Carson were NAIA All-Americans a season ago.
St. Francis garnered 19 of 20 first-place votes and collected 560 points.
“Although we graduated our No. 1 and No. 6 runners, I believe we are stronger than last year,” Barker said. “We have more depth than ever with 12 freshman and several returning runners who had very good track seasons last winter and spring. If we stay healthy, I think we will be far better than last year.”
The Saints women’s team was voted No. 9 in the NAIA Women’s Cross Country Coaches Preseason Top 25 Poll. It’s the first top-10 ranking for the program.
St. Francis qualified for the national championship for the first time a year ago, finishing 12th. Five of the top seven from a year ago return, including All-American Hilary Halford, juniors Kaitlin Hoy and Lisa Ringstmeyer and sophomores Brooke Johnson and Donna Aslakson.
“We graduated our No. 4 and No. 6 runners, but I feel that we are better than last year,” Barker said. “We can be a top-five team in the country and win the conference if everyone is healthy.”
For the fourth time in her career and first time this season, Halford has been named the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Cross Country Runner of the Week. She finished fourth among 158 individuals to help the Saints edge the University of Chicago 34-35 to capture the team title at the Elmhurst College Earlybird Invitational.
The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association tabbed the Lewis University men’s cross country team eighth overall in the preseason Midwest Regional rankings.
“It’s nice to see our team ranked regionally to start the year,” Lewis men’s cross country coach Dana Schwarting said. “We know we have a very competitive team and this ranking gives us some room to move up.”
The Flyers return 2012 NCAA qualifier Andrew McLain and All-Midwest Region selection Sean Smith. Both finished in the top five of the 2012 GLVC Men’s Cross Country Championships, helping the Flyers to a runner-up finish, while McLain added a third-place mark in the Midwest Regional Championships.
St. Francis junior forward Liceth Robles, sophomore defender Trish Masterson and senior forward Victor Trujillo all earned Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Soccer Player of the Week awards.
Robles was cited as the league’s top offensive player, and Masterson was recognized for her defensive play in the Saints’ 1-0 win over Missouri Baptist. Robles scored the sixth game-winning goal of her career and Masterson led a defensive effort that limited Missouri Baptist to five shots on goal and 10 total shots in the shutout victory.
Trujillo scored all three goals as the Saints defeated two-time defending National Christian College Athletic Association champion Moody Bible Institute 3-0.
Lewis named Annie Coryell as the associate director of athletics and director of compliance for the athletics department. She served the previous two years as the associate director of athletics for compliance for Dartmouth College.