PLATTEVILLE, Wis. - This season the Cross Country Pioneers will be led by Ian LaMere, who returns after having competed for Team USA at the under-23 North American and Central American Championships in El Salvador this summer. LaMere qualified to the U-23 NACAC by having the fastest time for an American under 23 years of age in the 10,000m during the 2016 Track and Field season.
"The experience Ian LaMere gained from his participation with TEAM USA in the NACAC under 23 meet this past summer certainly opened his eyes to new possibilities and took his expectations to a new level." Commented head Cross Country Coach Tom Antczak. "I believe Ian is the first UW-Platteville student-athlete to participate on a national team since I arrived at UWP 24 years ago. Of course his extended track season means we will definitely have to adjust his cross country season and push our training plan back 4 to 6 weeks. So the early season we will probably focus on developing a solid training basis and forego racing seriously until mid/late October. But then that is when the most important races take place so this shouldn't affect our team goals or goals for Ian for the championship part of the season."
The Pioneer's first test will come Friday at Augustana where the Pioneers will debut their top runners. As stated by coach Antczak, LaMere will sit out this race to focus on rebuilding his training base. Despite his absence from early season racing, LaMere heads into the Cross Country season as the heavy favorite to win the NCAA Championships. LaMere won the 2015 title in the fastest time ever recorded with the largest margin of victory ever, 39.6 seconds.
LaMere looks to lead the No. 22 nationally ranked Pioneers to a higher team finish at this year's NCAA Championships. Last year the men's team qualified to the NCAA Championships for the first time in five years and finished 27th out of 32 teams. "The men have a pretty good core of guys with experience running in the championship races" stated Coach Antczak, "even though we are returning only 3 of our top 7 from the end of last season. "
Coach Antczak added "I think the experience some of the younger guys gained last track season should carry over into this cross country season. In addition, we have some very solid rookies joining the team this year who should provide an immediate boost to our team's prospects. Our goal is always to meet or beat our regional and national ranking. To do that will require, as always, attention to details and keeping everyone healthy".
Returning from last year's national qualifying team, in addition to LaMere, will be sophomore Zach Lee and Junior Walker Rynes. Looking to become a part of our top-7 are senior captains Matt Wubben and Brian Rivers along with Juniors Logan Steinhoff and Mitch Frager. Three rookies are also looking to find a spot in this year's top-7. Transfer TJ Pitcock joins the Pioneers after two years at Aurora University while freshmen Kyle Riege and Adam Caruso are looking to make strong debuts.
The Pioneer women's team will be led by senior captain Chelsey Heiden. Heiden looks to improve on her 8th place finish at the WIAC Championships last year. The lady Pioneers finished the WIAC Conference in 5th place with the second best point total in program history. "Last year was a step up from the previous season and I think we should expect the same level of improvement this season" said Coach Antczak. He added that "we lost three or our top five and we don't have quite as much depth as on the men's side so staying healthy will be even more important. But just as with the guys, some of last year's rookies gained invaluable experience last track season and should be at a new level this cross country season." The Pioneers will be returning five key Sophomores in Janelle Ferguson, Hannah Ihlenfeldt, Katie Wardinski, Johanah Meister, and Camille Felton. Also looking to join our top returners will be freshman Caitlyn Ifft.
Despite losing some key runners on both sides, the Pioneers are optimistic about their chances to improve on last year's finishes. The Pioneers will be tested the next two weekends starting with Friday's race at Augustana. This will be the first chance the Pioneers have to see how they stack up against other Regionally ranked teams. The Pioneers will come back the following weekend to preview the nationals course in Louisville, Kentucky.