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Gaining despite the loss

Pat Leonard | Friday, September 12, 2003

The Saint Mary’s cross country program was counting on experience to lead the team this season. It wasn’t counting on its best runners leaving the team.

The Belles, without three of its top seven runners from a year ago, will compete in their second meet of the season Friday at the Aquinas College Invitational in Michigan.

Senior co-captain Erin Thayer and senior Jennifer Bartalino have left the team and sophomore Laura Ficker, the fastest Belles runner in four of the season’s eight meets, is in Rome.

That leaves Saint Mary’s with five seniors, four juniors, four sophomores and a startling nine freshmen on its roster. Add this list to a 2002 team that already had struggled – its best finish coming in the Eagles Invitational at Benedictine University – in which the Belles came in 10th out of 28 teams.

The normal bystander would wager against any sort of challenge by Saint Mary’s this season.

Coach Dave Barstis would have to disagree.

“Last year was an off year for us,” Barstis said. “No one from Saint Mary’s made all-conference last season. This year we have the potential to have three or four first-team as well as second-team all conference winners.”

The Belles opened the season Sept. 5, with a fifth-place finish in the 12-team Tiffin University/Heidelberg College Invitational 5,000-meter race. This start was an immediate improvement. Barstis could not be happier with the performance of his team, and in particular, the performance of those without any experience – the freshmen.

“At the Tiffin/Heidelberg meet, there were three [freshmen] in the top five,” he said. “I feel we have a great mix of experience and youth.”

Senior Jackie Bauters, who finished first for Saint Mary’s last season placed 13th with a time of 19:50.8.

Freshmen Sara Otto (20:01.3) and Katie White (20:19.9) finished 16th and 26th, respectively.

Ohio Northern University captured the invitational, defeating the University of Findley and Defiance College by narrow margins of two and four points, respectively.

This weekend at Aquinas, Barstis’s alma mater, the Belles will compete in a smaller meet of five or six teams. The meet, however, has its own significance.

“Aquinas has a very strong team every year and this gives us the opportunity to compete against some good competition that we won’t see in our conference,” Barstis said.

Barstis says practices have been energetic because the runners know they have a great team.

The Belles have six meets remaining after this weekend until the MIAA championships on Nov. 1 at Albion College.

The Aquinas College Invitational begins at 6 p.m.