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Otahkians, Indians look to make run at OVC titles
Southeast runners open their season Friday at the Southern Illinois Invitational.
By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian
Southeast Missouri State University's quest for its first-ever Ohio Valley Conference cross country championship was derailed in part last year when several key injuries hit the women's team.
But as Southeast begins its cross country season Friday at the Southern Illinois Invitational in Carbondale, second-year coach Eric Heins believes the Otahkians -- if they stay healthy -- will be able to contend for that elusive OVC title when the conference meet is held in October.
And he thinks Southeast's men will also contend for a finish toward the top of the 11-team league pack.
"If the women can avoid injuries, I think we can challenge for the title," said Heins, whose program hosts the annual Southeast Invitational on Oct. 23 at Capaha Park, one week before the OVC meet is held in Martin, Tenn. "And I think the guys can challenge for top three, that's what we're going for."
Southeast's women were third in last season's OVC Championships as Eastern Kentucky won for the 20th time in 22 years. Samford was second. The Otahkians have finished second eight times in the last 12 years.
Hampering the Otahkians' charge toward the top a year ago was the absence of Lindsay Zeiler, who captured the OVC individual title as a freshman in 2002 but missed all of last season with a leg injury.
However, Zeiler -- who came back to post a big track season last year -- has fully recovered and is ready to go. She is a sophomore in cross country eligibility.
Another expected top runner last year, Colleen Burke, missed most of the season with a leg injury but she is now healthy for her senior campaign.
"Having Lindsay and Colleen back will really help us," Heins said.
The Otahkians return their top two finishers from last year's OVC meet in junior Brooke Woodruff (11th) and senior Kris Woolf (13th). Both earned all-conference second team honors.
Other returning runners are senior Kim Krieger, junior Jen Caywood and sophomore Emily Zimmerman. Freshman Sarah Verelst rounds out the squad.
Southeast's men, whose best OVC finishes were second in both 1992 and 1993, placed fifth a year ago, led by Brian Whitehead and Chad Sierman, who were fifth and sixth to earn first team all-league honors. Sierman completed his eligibility but Whitehead returns as the Indians' lone senior.
Gabe Lutes is the only junior on a young squad. He was 17th in the 2003 OVC race.
Also returning are sophomores Brad DeMattei, Kirk Nesbit and Mark McNamara.
Heins expects major contributions from freshmen Kevin McNab, Brandon Karcher and Danny Stults.
"I'm real excited about the guys having a shot at really moving up this year," Heins said.