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Runners hope to continue progress

Dan Tapetillo | Friday, September 3, 2004

The Belles are hoping to establish themselves as one of the conference’s top programs.Coming off their best finish at last year’s MIAA Championships, the team is only expecting top performances this season to reach that level.Already off to a promising start, Saint Mary’s is returning four of its top five runners. In addition to the team’s veterans, a transfer student and a freshman will also be joining the Belles. Coach Dave Barstis said the team’s newcomers add a sense of enthusiasm to the talent-laden roster.”We feel confident as a team because we’ve got great first-year runners that will make our team deeper,” Barstis said.Returning veterans include sophomores Sara Otto, Erin Nolan and Katie White.Otto finished first for the team at both the conference championships and at the NCAA Division III Regionals at Hanover College by placing 22nd and 84th. Co-captain Elizabeth Commers had only words of praise for Otto. “She’s already a leader for the team,” Commers said. “It was a natural role for her.”Although Otto’s importance to the team as a leader is evident, she does not view herself as the only individual the team looks upon for inspiration and support.”We all lead together,” Otto said. “Together we are preparing mentally and physically for the championships at the end of the season.”Leading the team throughout the season will be co-captains Risa Zander and Commers. Otto described the two as perfect for the role of captain. “They both lead by example,” Otto said. “Risa is very goal-oriented, and Elizabeth has always been encouraging.” In a sport that can easily become individual-oriented, Barstis says he expects the two captains to assume the role of assistant coaches on the course, guiding each runner towards the team’s season goals. “They know my plan so I look for them to lead,” Barstis said. “We just need to work on our confidence.”The team has plenty to be confident about, as sophomore transfer Meghan Murphy and freshman Megan Gray have already shown great potential. Barstis said they have been a great addition to the team. “We have been able to replace the loss of last year’s seniors with excellent runners,” Barstis said.The Belles are hoping to showcase their excellence at today’s season-opening race, the Heidelberg Invitational in Ohio. However, Saint Mary’s primary goal in regards to the meet is to view the race as a workout. For the Belles, this is an opportunity to build team unity and to gain experience working together while racing. “We are viewing the races this season as workouts and looking to learn from them,” Barstis said. “They have to learn how to run together, and this will hopefully motivate the runners to improve their times by working together.”