Mavs ready to run with the pack
Several freshmen will push the Colorado Mesa University cross-country teams this year.
The Mavericks’ men’s and women’s teams each expect three freshmen to score at meets this season.
Junior Shane Niksic believes the Mavericks’ men’s team is so much better this year, they could finish in the top six at the NCAA Division II regional and qualify for the national meet. Mesa placed 12th in the South Central Region last year.
“I think the biggest difference between this year and last year, John and I were the only ones that really ran over the summer last year,” Niksic said. “With the recruits we’ve got this year, they all ran over the summer. Now, we have a much stronger base and more depth. Plus, they are faster in general.”
“Compared to last year, we’re 100 times better already,” sophomore John Cusick said. “The freshmen did the work. We had high expectations last year. We didn’t exceed those expectations, but we have the same expectations this year. I think we have a better route to reach them this year.”
Freshman Danny Vavrick won the team time trial. Zak Kennison was right behind him.
Jon Johannsen and Seth Knighton will travel with the team and could figure in the Mavericks’ score at each meet.This year’s freshmen are the first that coach Gig Leadbetter was able to recruit for a full year, he said. The men’s program is in its third year.
“This is the most amazing foundation of freshmen I’ve ever had by far,” Leadbetter said of the men’s team. “I’m so psyched about it. They’re talking about different kinds of running shoes. They are really serious about running.”
The Maverick men are expected to improve slightly in the RMAC this year, picked ninth. They were 10th last year.
“It’s new,” Leadbetter said. “It’s a whole different mental dynamic on the men’s team this year. That positive mental dynamic leads to a positive physical finish.”
Three freshmen figure to score for the women’s team this year, and Haley Kremer, who walked on this fall, could lead the Mavericks.
“On the women’s side, we had a real surprise,” Leadbetter said. “She beat everyone by one minute in the time trial.”
Kremer went to the University of Colorado out of high school, but she didn’t compete in athletics. After one year there, she decided to attend Colorado Mesa and try out for the cross-country team. She played volleyball, basketball and soccer in high school.
“CU was not the right place for me,” Kremer said. “I was not happy there. I started running first semester there for fun, and I kept pursuing it. Over the summer, I did a few races. My brother is a college runner, and my dad is a big runner. They persuaded me to run in college, so that’s what I did.”
Freshman Lauren Lipski finished second behind Kremer in the time trial and will travel with the team. Freshman Allie Suppes will likely travel and could score points for the Mavs.
They will join juniors Melissa Bauer and Shannon Emery and sophomore Chelsea Lyons.
“This year, I think it’s going to be a lot better,” Bauer said. “It feels like we have a lot more dedicated people coming in every year. We did lose two seniors, but we picked up a couple good girls and I’m excited about that.”
The Maverick women are picked to finish 10th in the RMAC preseason poll. They were 10th last year.
“I think we’re going to be a middle-of-the-pack team again, but we’re building,” Leadbetter said. “We have so many freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s a tough conference. To break into the middle of the pack (in the RMAC) is good.”
Adams State’s men’s and women’s teams are heavily favored to win the RMAC again this season. The men won the national title last year, and the women placed second.
Colorado Mesa opens its season Sept. 14 at the University of California-Riverside Invitational.