The Bradley cross country team began its season last Friday at the Eastern Illinois University Walt Crawford Open. The Braves had strong showings from veteran runners in addition to several impressive collegiate debuts. Despite head coach Darren Gauson resting some of the programs top talent, both the mens and womens teams raced competitively.
The men were led by redshirt junior Nik Hess who posted a career-best time of 25:40.23 in the eight kilometer race, nearly 15 seconds better than his previous personal record. The finishing time slotted Hess sixth overall in the field of 90 runners.
Coming in with the best finish of his career early in the season has Hess confident for the rest of the year.
I just went out with the front pack and tried to stay relaxed, Hess said. It was a nice little rust buster.
In the final year of his collegiate campaign, Hess said he would like to be a regular contributing member to the varsity squad. According to Hess, in order to achieve this goal, he must remain healthy.
I have had a few injuries in past, and its hard to get going after a big injury, Hess said. Consistency is going to be key for me this year.
Hess was followed by redshirt freshman Jon May and sophomore Scott Seymour, who finished 14th and 28th, respectively, in the duos first official collegiate race.
The opening meet of the season was a success, according to Gauson.
I thought we competed well, Gauson said. The first race of the year is just about getting some of our runners more competitive opportunities.
On the womens side, senior Nicole Alfano paced the Braves with an 11th place finish. Alfano crossed the finish line in the five kilometer with a time of 18:39.66, just shy of matching her career-best time by less than one second.
Not far behind Alfano was senior Jennifer Luksan, junior Morgan Lain and sophomore Emma Makowski, all finishing among the top 30.
Gauson said he was encouraged with the teams showing, especially because he held back many of the top runners on both sides.
Whenever we put any team out there, we expect to be competitive, and its the same philosophy every time, Gauson said. These runners were able to execute that.
The two-time Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year has a problem most coaches would like to: an abundance of ability.
We are really deep this year, Gauson said. It is really hard to separate any of the runners at this point. We will probably have more clarity next week when we run everybody.
The Braves will take to the course next week when they host the Bradley Intercollegiate on Sept. 15 at Detweiller Park.