(MARTY MISHOW ~ email@example.com)
Juli Koenegstein ended the spring track season in style, setting school and conference records in the steeplechase while qualifying for regionals.
Koenegstein has picked up where she left off.
The Chester, Ill., native is off to a sizzling start for the Southeast Missouri State cross country team, with a first-place finish and two runner-up performances.
Her strong showings have helped Southeast's women to a perfect season so far, with three titles in as many meets.
"Juli is running very well," Southeast coach Miles Krieger said. "I really thought she would do well.
"Breaking conference and school records in the steeplechase, going to regionals ... I think that gave her a lot of confidence."
Koenegstein, a junior who placed 15th in the steeplechase at the NCAA track regionals in the spring, agreed.
"I think going to regionals, that was the biggest thing for me," she said. "The sports both go together. What you do in one sets you up for the other. It gives you a good base."
Koenegstein began the cross country season with a second-place finish at the Southern Indiana Stegemoller Classic in Evansville, Ind., on Sept. 1.
She followed that by placing first at the Eastern Illinois Panther Invitational in Charleston, Ill., on Sept. 14.
Koenegstein took second at the Southern Illinois Saluki Invitational in Carbondale, Ill., this past Saturday.
Koenegstein's most recent performance was noteworthy, she said, because it came in front of many family members who made the short trip from Chester, Ill.
"We had a lot of people over there," she said.
Koenegstein's showing Saturday also allowed the Southeast women's squad to beat SIU in a meet for the second time this year -- both times by three points.
"It's always nice to beat them because they're so close, so it's a rivalry," Koenegstein said.
In addition, Koenegstein's father Bob is a former runner at SIU.
Koenegstein said she originally thought about attending SIU, but after what she admitted was an unspectacular high school career, the Salukis really didn't recruit her.
Southeast showed interest, so Koenegstein opted for a school that is about the same distance as SIU (about 40 to 45 minutes) from her hometown.
"I wasn't that good in high school, but I've improved a lot since then," said Koenegstein, who originally came to Southeast as a walk-on.
She hasn't regretted her decision.
"I'm glad I came here," she said. "I like it a lot, and I love the people."
Koenegstein also had a solid cross country season last year, placing eighth in the Ohio Valley Conference meet to earn second-team all-OVC honors.
After her impressive track season and plenty of miles over the summer, she and her coach expected good things.
"I worked a lot over the summer," Koenegstein said. "Hard work always pays off."
Said Krieger: "Juli doesn't cut any corners with training. She's usually the first one to practice and the last one to leave.
"She's not only a great runner, but a great leader."
Koenegstein said her goal for the remainder of the season is to continue running well and to make first-team all-OVC, which would mean a spot in the top seven at the conference meet.
"If I can get that, I'll be happy," she said.
What would also make her happy is continued success for the team, which slumped to fifth place in the OVC a year ago, but has often finished among the top two or three at the league meet.
"The team is doing really well. It's exciting," said Koenegstein, who is majoring in education and eventually would like to coach track and cross country. "I think we have a good chance [at the OVC meet]."
Like Koenegstein, Krieger is excited about the way his young women's squad has performed. The Redhawks have no seniors, while Koenegstein is one of only two juniors.
Several freshmen have made a big impact, led by Brandi Gervais. She has been the Redhawks' No. 2 runner so far, with two fifth-place finishes and a sixth-place showing.
"I don't know that I expected to be undefeated right now, but I expected us to do well," said Krieger, whose men's squad has been hampered by injuries but has still managed three top-five team finishes.
Krieger said he'll find out more about the Redhawks in their remaining meets, where the competition will be much stiffer.
Southeast competes in the Greater Louisville Classic on Saturday, followed by the Bradley Classic on Oct. 12, the OVC Championships on Oct. 27 and the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 10.
"I'm anxious to see what we can do as we get into the next phase of our season, racing against bigger teams," Krieger said. "We'll find out a lot more about this team the next few weeks."