Following last season and the loss of his top male runner, USF coach Greg Thiel wanted the men’s cross country team to return this season in better shape.
Returning from last season’s team are sophomores Sean Burris and Derek Lincoln, and the Bulls were hoping the two of them would be able to step up their production to supplement the loss of former standout Andrew Smith.
After their first meet last weekend at the Indiana Open in Bloomington, Ind., Burris and Lincoln each showed they are capable of being the front runners the Bulls need this season.
Burris picked up his first collegiate victory in USF’s first meet of the season by completing the 7k course in 23:10.55, while Lincoln finished seventh in 23:35.44.
“It’s a cool experience,” Burris said. “It was a pretty low-key meet, but a win is a win.”
Neither Burris nor Lincoln ever finished in the top 10 last season as freshmen, so the early season success has Thiel and his team feeling optimistic about the rest of the season.
“We challenged those kids last year to come back fitter and stronger, and they’ve done it,” Thiel said. “When we had our meeting we talked about trying to win conference championship and that’s our goal. We thought we could make a good run at it and it looks like we’re going to.”
Senior Adam Chumbley joined his teammates in the top 10, finishing five seconds behind Burris and securing second place.
“I didn’t really push myself, and neither did Adam or Derek, I’m sure,” Burris said. “We have a better group of guys this year than we did last year, so I think we’ll be there at the end.
“Our team is looking strong, so we’ll see what happens.”
The women’s team also enjoyed a good first meet, placing two runners in the top six and finishing second. The men’s race was not scored.
Junior Christa Benton picked up where she left off last season and won her first race of the season, finishing the 5k course in 18:07.57.
Teammate Jessica Hellender also finished strong, placing sixth with a time of 19:09.
“(Christa) looked great, and Jessica Hellender looked great,” Thiel said.
But more importantly for the Bulls was the performance of a trio of freshmen, who each finished in the top 28 in their first collegiate meet.
Kristen Poulos led the newcomers with a 14th place finish, while Sara Hall and Maggie Porter finished 19th and 28th respectively.
Thiel said the first meet was used as a gauge to see how the freshmen stack up against collegiate competition.
“That’s what we look for, to kind of see what we have,” Thiel said. “They were very competitive.”