Injuries hamper Otahk runners

Saturday, November 1, 2003

When the season began, this looked like one of Southeast Missouri State University's best chances to win its first Ohio Valley Conference women's cross country championship.

Two key injuries later, the Otahkians have gone from solid contender to perhaps a darkhorse for the title, but they still look for a strong showing today in Puryear, Tenn. The women's race will begin at 10 a.m., followed by the men at 10:45.

"The injuries have really hurt us, but a lot of people have picked up the slack," Southeast first-year coach Eric Heins said. "We're really running well right now."

Sophomore Lindsay Zeiler, the defending OVC champion, has missed the season with a stress fracture. Also out much of the year with a similar injury was junior Colleen Burke, who was 28th at last year's OVC meet.

Southeast finished second in the conference meet eight of the past 11 years, including last season. Eastern Kentucky is the defending champion and has won 19 of the last 21 titles.

"Eastern Kentucky is the favorite. We're not favored, but I don't think winning is out of the question. That's our goal going into it," Heins said. "If Eastern Kentucky screws up and we feel really good, I think we've got a shot at it."

Kaci Pilcher, one of just two seniors for the Otahkians, should contend for the individual title and will try to wrap up a brilliant career on a high note.

Pilcher has been all-OVC the past three years -- the top seven finishers make first team and the next seven make second team -- placing fourth as a freshman, fifth as a sophomore and eighth last season.

"I think it's going to be a race to the finish, and I think I have a chance to win," said Pilcher, Southeast's top runner in every meet this season.

Junior Kris Woolf and sophomore Brooke Woodruff, 10th and 11th at last year's OVC meet, have been the Otahkians' Nos. 2 and 3 runners most of the season.

Heins said the Otahkians have gotten a lift from sophomore Kimberly Kreiger, who was not among their top seven runners last year but has been running fourth or fifth all season, and sophomore Jennifer Caywood, who practiced with the squad last year but did not compete.

Rounding out the Otahkians' lineup today will be senior Jenny Burke, freshman Melissa Moody and freshman Taryn Phillips.

On the men's side, Southeast was fifth last year but Heins hopes the Indians will sneak into the top three. Eastern Illinois has won three straight titles and Eastern Kentucky looms as the Panthers' primary challenger.

Chad Sierman, the Indians' lone senior and top runner most of the season, finished 15th in last year's OVC meet. Junior Brian Whitehead was 16th and sophomore Gabe Lutes 23rd.

Also running for the Indians today will be freshmen Brad DeMattei, Mark McNamara and Kirk Nesbit.

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