Three down and two to go

With its top three runners from last season’s Conference USA runners-up returning to the squad this year, the only question for the USF women’s cross- country team is which pair of newcomers are going to step up and help the Bulls get back on top.

An answer to that question could come today when the Bulls begin their season at the Indiana Open in Bloomington, Ind.

The leader of the group undoubtedly is junior Christa Benton, who became USF’s first female cross-country All-American last season after finishing 40th at the NCAA Championships.

Flanked on each side of her is a pair of All-Conference selections in sophomore Jessica Hellender and junior Bente General.

USF coach Greg Thiel has a few names in mind he thinks will be able to rise to the challenge — namely freshmen Sara Hall and Kristen Poulos.

“We think we have a real good shot at winning conference this year,” Thiel said. “With that five, I think we can make a good run at it.”

Thiel pointed out that as a freshman, Hellender enjoyed great success in making the quick jump from high school to collegiate running. And with Hellender remaining on the squad this season, she could serve as a mentor for the younger runners to emulate.

“It will help a lot because Jessica was a freshman last year,” Thiel said. “The success that she had, she’ll be a real positive influence on the freshmen this year and shows that they can succeed.

“There’s a nice gap between (the freshmen and) Christa and Jessica, but if they can make that jump to where Jessica was last year, it could be an incredible year.”

The men’s team also must find a couple runners to step up this season, mostly to fill the shoes of Andrew Smith, who virtually carried the Bulls last season.

“I think you never know until you line up, but with Adam Chumbley finishing the (track and field season) with being the 10,000 meter champion, I think Adam’s made a big jump,” Thiel said. “And I think Adam can certainly fill Andrew’s shoes.”

However, other than Chumbley, the Bulls are relatively inexperienced. Sophomores Sean Burris and Derek Lincoln return this season, but the team also will rely on contributions from freshmen Coe Fedorenko, Chris Cox and Andrew Charles.