After both of NKU’s cross country teams took third place at the Chris Jones Memorial Invitational during Labor Day weekend, coach Steve Kruse took notice of the teams’ strengths, as well as areas they may need to work on.
The women’s team lost four of its top seven runners from last season, but added some promising newcomers, creating “a tight-knit group of five, which is the number we need to generate a team score,” Kruse said. “We may have some others join the team later in the season.”
Among the women returning from last season are senior Anna Moore and sophomore Tracy Inman. Moore was NKU’s most valuable runner last year and took eighth place overall at the Chris Jones Memorial Invitational this season.
Inman took third-place honors in the women’s five-kilometer race at the Invitational.
“Newcomer Jessie Gehner shouold prove to be a very valuable asset to the team and returnees Lisa Sand and Kristen Rose will round out our team,” Kruse said.
Gehner, a freshman at NKU, finished seventh at the Invitational and expects the team to accomplish great things.
“I think the team is really going to show some improvement this season,” Gehner said. “We’re all working really hard, and I think we’ll see our race times start dropping.”
Gehner said she sees the small group of women runners as a strength because it creates a close bond between the women, but Kruse sees a weakness in having only a few runners.
“If we get one injury during the season, the team is in jeopardy,” Kruse said.
However, the men’s team is in good shape, with quite a few more runners than the women’s team.
“We have several men who should do well this year,” Kruse said. “Sophomore captain Greaham Niemer and sophomore Denny Kramer are in fantastic shape, and will give junior Doug Fulmer a challenge at the top position.”
“Sophomore Justin Clark, juniors Andy Kennedy and Dave Adams are in good shape and will contribute much more than they did last year.”
“Freshman Jerry Biedenbender and Allen Pettigrew should figure in the varsity lineup somewhere,” Kruse said. “This will leave some great opportunities for Matt King, Kevin Arnold and Josh Lane to fill the gaps where needed.”
With a schedule similar to previous years, Kruse has high expectations for both teams this season because of the teams’ past performances at competitions and his own experiences as a former cross country runner himself.
As a former student of NKU and graduate of the University of Cincinnati, Kruse applies his personal strategies and philosophies to his coaching techniques.
“Techniques that I learned through college training and racing are just as sound today as they were 20 years ago,” he said.
Yet, since he is the coach for both the men’s and the women’s teams, Kruse must adjust his coaching strategy based on which team he is coaching.
Kruse says the obvious differences between the teams are that the men run longer distances and work out more, because they need to have a little more endurance than the women’s teams, who run shorter distances in their races.
“Women will be focusing more on speed earlier than the men, who will be doing a lot of long distance training,” Kruse said.
Gehner noticed a difference between her current workload compared to her high school cross country training.
“The training load is much more intense, but I’m really loving it,” she said. “It’s amazing how tough you feel after doing an eight-mile run in the blistering August heat.”
Kruse said that some of the key men’s runners from previous seasons came back this year in poor shape, but some of the men returned in better shape than last year, making up for the others, until training gets them in good condition for the more important competitions toward the end of the season.
Overall, Kruse has a positive outlook for this cross country season.
“We are looking to improve our place in both the men’s and the women’s races from the past two seasons,” Kruse said.
“It will be difficult but with focus and team unity, we can do it.”