The expectations are still high for the women’s cross-country team that just missed out on the championships last season.
Coach Ryan Cole said he will rely on upperclassmen to lead by example with the team adding eight freshmen to the group.
Specifically, Cole said he expects the veterans to come back ready as they continued their training during the summer.
“We have some really talented girls on paper coming in, and then we have some girls that can be pleasant surprises,” he said, “and that’s what makes it fun when you have a new group of freshmen come in. You just never know.”
Cole said that one of challenges he faces this year is the addition of so many new members on the team, and adding new faces with the nucleus already in place is easier because of how the veterans interact with the freshmen.
He said he wants the new members to come in with a good attitude and willing to work hard and being competitive.
With a total of 15 women on the roster, the freshmen-heavy group will need the experience and leadership of All-American Shelby Houlihan, who excelled individually last season.
“We have a group of girls that are now upperclassmen and having more of those people fill leadership roles will be essential for our team,” Cole said.
Houlihan will be looked to for leadership just as she has in the past, Cole said.
“Shelby should be more of a central figure as far as our leadership goes over the next two years,” Cole said.
Houlihan starts her third year with the team coming off a successful individual season in which she was awarded All-American honors after finishing No. 31 in the 2012 NCAA Cross-Country Championships in Louisville, Ky.
Houlihan was the only member of the team to make nationals last year.
“It was fun going to nationals individually, but it would’ve been a lot more fun if my team would have been there, too.” she said.
Houlihan said she is optimistic about the class of freshman as well as returning team members.
“I’m really excited about this year,” she said. “I feel like we have a lot of good freshmen, and they’re willing to work hard, so I think we’ll be pretty good.”
Cole said the team goal is always to get to the NCAA championships, and he expects the new group to make strides toward that.
“There’s a great opportunity for the new people to make an immediate impact, and then there is going to be some motivation from the returners knowing that there are so many new people coming in and that they really have to be diligent with their preparation,” Cole said.
Cole said despite having a sense of who he is choosing for his top five, nothing is set and that he will know more after they start practicing.
The team’s first meet is Sept. 7 at the George Kyte Invitational in Flagstaff.
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