Eagles look to continue GLVC dominance

Zane Clodfelter

Things picked up right where they left off in 2012 for  Head Coach Mike Hillyard and his men’s and women’s cross country teams this weekend, in the Stegemoller Classic. The annual event was held at the USI Cross Country Course on campus.

The Eagles, which swept the GLVC 2012 season by winning both the men’s and women’s titles, swept the season-opening event Friday.

USI men had eight runners who finished the 6k race in the top 10, led by junior Tyler Pence’s time of 18 minutes 30 seconds.

“It was pretty relaxed, a good race,” Pence said. “Me and Johnnie (Guy) ran pretty comfortably together.”

Guy, a sophomore from Palmyra, Ind., finished second while his teammate, junior Trent Nolan, capped off the top three. Guy’s twin brother, Josh, missed the meet due to a “nagging” injury.

Pence said the key for another successful season for the Eagles relates to health of he and his teammates throughout the season.

“As a team, we always have trouble staying healthy, so that’s a big part,” Pence said. “Up front we are really strong, it’s just all about staying healthy.”

Pence has already attracted attention from the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) in his previous two seasons on campus, once by winning GLVC Freshman of the Year honors in 2011. His personal motivation for this season includes adding two awards that have eluded him: all-region and all-American honors.

“Going into this year I can’t let that happen again,” Pence added.

The Eagles have a loaded roster returning for the men’s side, with only five seniors lost from 2012’s team.

Despite the loss of valuable seniors, including All-American Michael Jordan, the Eagles have improved from this point last season,  Hillyard said.

“We averaged 49 seconds faster for our top five than when we ran at this same meet a year ago,” he said. “That’s definitely significant progress.”

The women’s side also has a substantial amount of returning talent from the 2012 GLVC Championship team. Seniors Erika Wilson and Kaylee McClanahan finished second and third respectively in the classic on Friday while leading the group of six Eagles runners in the top 10.

While the weekend’s event was a shorter distance than most of the other events on the schedule, McClanahan said she noticed positive things that she could take from and utilize for the rest of the season.

“It’s a chance for us all to get our feet wet and get used to racing,” McClanahan said. “My seasons have always been up and down so I felt the longer that race went, the better I felt and I got stronger throughout.”

For both the men and women, runners have their eyes on the big events that await towards the end of the schedule, including the GLVC and NCAA meets in October and November.

“Conference, regionals, and nationals are really the races that matter,” Pence said. “Right now, it’s just staying consistent and working hard.”

Both teams travel to East Lansing, Michigan this weekend to take part in the Spartan Invitational hosted by Michigan State University.

Hillyard said the meet will provide a good chance to look at other regional teams outside of the GLVC.

“We’ll get to see several of the top-ranked teams in our region,” he said.