First-year Southeast Missouri State University cross country coach Eric Heins is confident that the Otahkians can finally get to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference and that the Indians can climb upward in the league standings.
"I think it will be a very good season for both the men's and women's teams," said Heins, whose squads have their first meet today at the Missouri Invitational in Columbia. "The women finished second in the OVC last season and I feel they can win the title this year. The men finished fifth last season and I think they can shoot for the top three this year."
The 26-year-old Heins, who began his new position barely two weeks ago, has an impressive background, both as a coach and runner.
As an assistant at Northern Arizona last year, the cross country program was one of just four in the nation to have both the men's and women's teams place in the top 10 at the NCAA Division I Championships. Heins has also been an assistant at Indiana.
As an athlete, Heins was a solid distance runner for the University of Cincinnati and he completed his final year of eligibility in indoor track while attending Indiana's graduate school.
"I'm really excited about being at Southeast," Heins said. "It's my first chance to actually be a head coach."
Southeast's women have never won an OVC cross country title but they have knocked on the door numerous times, finishing second eight of the past 11 years. With four returning runners who finished among top 11 at last year's league meet, it's no wonder hopes are high.
OVC champ as a freshman
Sophomore Lindsay Zeiler was the OVC champion last season as a freshman, although she is still recovering from a leg injury that hampered her much of last year's track season. She could possibly redshirt.
"It's getting a lot better and hopefully I'll be able to run," Zeiler said. "I definitely think we can win the OVC. We're shooting for it."
Senior Kaci Pilcher has been all-OVC the past three years, finishing fourth in 2000, fifth in 2001 and eighth last season.
"We're really excited," Pilcher said. "I think this is the year we can win it. We're tired of getting second. We really want it and we're willing to work hard for it."
Junior Kris Woolf and sophomore Brooke Woodruff were 10th and 11th in last year's OVC meet as they joined Pilcher in making second-team all-conference.
Also back after competing in last year's league meet are sophomore Ashley Brinegar (20th) and junior Colleen Burke (28th).
Others returning are juniors Jen Burke and Kimberly Krieger while freshmen competing for spots in the lineup are Kristen Leone, Missy Moody and Taryn Phillips.
On the men's side, senior Chad Sierman and junior Brian Whitehead return after finishing 15th and 16th in last year's OVC meet.
Also back is sophomore Gabe Lutes (23rd), while newcomers are freshmen Brad DeMattei, Mark McNamara and Kirk Nesbit, along with junior Jason Crawford.
"Our men will have two freshmen in the top five so we're still kind of rebuilding, but we think we can still do well this year," Heins said.