For the second time in as many seasons, a new coach is leading the Tabor College cross-country program this fall.
First-year coach Brian Grime has taken the reins of a program that has seen its fair share of turnover. He will seek to provide stability for the program.
Integral to both teams? success will be the ability of athletes to buy into a new training program.
?This training?s a lot different from (Dan Swaney?s) or (Eric Schwab?s), but they seem to be responding well,? Grime said. ?(I?m) expecting big things from quite a few individuals.?
Both the men?s and women?s teams will be comprised of nearly equal amounts of returning and new talent as the Bluejays seek to make positive strides from a year ago. The men finished seventh among 10 schools at the KCAC championships last year, and the women finished fifth.
Six men complete this year?s roster, allowing the Bluejays to field a full team this season. Tabor lost two top-10 KCAC placers and NAIA qualifiers in Joel Allen and Garrett Daugh?erty, but do return three athletes from last season.
That list begins with senior Bret Mueller, who Grime said brings leadership to the team.
?I?m expecting really big things from him this year,? he said. ?I think he?s really going to surprise some people in the conference.?
Last season, Mueller finished 56th in the KCAC championship men?s 8-k race with a time of 28 minutes, 41.9 seconds. A second returning senior, Tyler Parrish, turned in a time of 28:32.8, good for 49th overall.
?He?s just got to gain some confidence, but he will be pretty talented as well,? Grime said. ?He?ll be probably our number two guy.?
Tabor?s third returner, junior Josh Richert, is coming off of an injury. He placed 62nd in the KCAC race in 29:26.
?He?s just kind of getting back into the swing of things,? Grime said. ?It?ll take some time, but he probably will be ready later on in the season to do some things for us.?
Three newcomers complete the roster. Senior Jared Janzen is running cross country for the first time.
?This is a new experience for him, so it?s going to be quite a trip, just coming into college cross country not really having a running background,? Grime said. ?He?s a good kid and he?s helping us out in a lot of ways.?
Two freshmen complete the squad: Mitchell Graf from Corn Bible Academy and Si Luc from Maize.
Tabor ranked 10th of 12 schools in the KCAC preseason coaches poll. Grime said he expects the University of Saint Mary and Friends to be in the running for top conference honors.
For the Bluejays, success will be measured by continual progress.
?We?re just going to base this year off of how much we can improve from start to finish,? Grime said. ?It?d be great if we could finish better than our preseason ranking, but our main goal is just to get better each week.?
Grime said the team is realistic about where they are, yet have the proper perspective to view the season as an opportunity to improve.
?They know they?re not the most talented group, but they are working hard, and so we?re going to make the most out of it and see what happens,? he said. ?We might surprise some people, and we?ll see how it goes.?
Seven athletes comprise the women?s team. Gone is NAIA qualifier Hannah Holmes, who finished fourth in the KCAC women?s 5-k a year ago in 19:02.1.
Junior Katey Whitesell tops a list of three returning athletes and brings leadership to the team.
?She?s got the potential to make some noise, be all-conference,? Grime said. ?She scored just outside of the top 20 last year.?
Whitesell completed the 5-k KCAC race in 20:25.2, finishing 24th.
Sophomore Kaylee Schmidt also returns, having finished the conference race in 60th place with a time of 22:32.9.
?She?s put in a pretty good summer as compared to last summer,? Grime said. ?She?s going to be a lot better than she was last year.?
Tabor?s third returner, senior Allie Jost, will only participate in a few meets this year, including the conference meet.
?She?s very busy with internships this year,? Grime said. ?I asked her if she?d come out just to make sure we have enough runners. She?s coming to three or four practices a week and she?s going to run in at least one meet.?
Jost finished 55th in the KCAC race (22:07.5).
Headlining a group of four newcomers is freshman Julie Loewen, a middle-distance track athlete who shows promise in cross country as well.
?Running distance is kind of new to her, but she is responding really well,? Grime said. ?She put in a good summer. I think she can be all-KCAC as a freshman. It?s going to be exciting. Kind of a diamond in the rough.?
Junior Maggie Ramirez transferred to Tabor to play basketball, but has decided to try cross country as well.
?She?s very positive,? Grime said. ?She?s very outgoing, and she?s going to be a good asset to the team. Running-wise, it?s tough for her. She hasn?t done a whole lot of running since high school, so it?s kind of a different ball game. It?s going to be a learning curve for her, but we?re hoping she can be right there with Kaylee.?
Freshman Stacie Bell comes to Tabor from Buhler, where she was a high school teammate of Schmidt?s.
?She?ll fit in really well with our team, and I think she?ll do well,? Grime said. ?She can be right there with Kaylee and Maggie, kind of in that mix rounding out our top five.?
Senior transfer Casie Giffin joins the team as a part-time participant who may be called upon to run in the conference meet.
?She was a soccer player originally, so running?s kind of new to her,? Grime said. ?She ran in high school, but is still kind of learning how to get back into it. We?re happy she?s helping us out.?
Grime expects Saint Mary and Ottawa to be in contention at the top of the conference. The Bluejays were picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll.
?I?m excited,? he said. ?I don?t think they realize it yet how good they could be. It?s a process, but I think by the end of the year, we could really make some noise.?
Tabor will begin its season Saturday at the JK Gold Classic in Augusta.