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SMC Cross Country: Belles head to non-conference meet

Matt Gamber | Friday, September 28, 2007

A fourth-place finish at last Saturday’s MIAA Jamboree may have put Saint Mary’s in position to accomplish its goal of making this season the best in school history, but what it didn’t do was give the Belles a week off.

Not that they were counting on one.

“It was right back to business this week,” coach Jackie Bauters said. “I don’t feel like the success has shocked anybody. For the most part, it’s just fired everybody up to continue running well.”

That’s always the goal, after all, even for Saturday’s Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational in Chicago – which won’t affect the conference standings. But Bauters is hardly expecting a letdown after last week’s fine showing.

“Obviously the conference meets are a little more valuable, but we take each meet similarly,” Bauters said. “Every weekend we can learn how each girl can race to her potential, and as we work toward getting better, we’ll start putting all the pieces together.”

There’s no doubt that the pivotal piece of the puzzle is senior captain Megan Gray. The all-conference returnee led the Belles again last weekend by taking sixth overall. What will make or break the Belles’ season, though, is the progression of a young supporting cast.

Bauters said freshman Catie Salyer, who is still recovering from a case of mononucleosis this summer, has begun to assert herself. She was named last weekend’s “warrior of the race,” a Belles tradition after every meet, for her No. 25 finish in the Jamboree.

Sophomore Emily Graf also battled illness this summer and “has looked a million times better in practice over the past two weeks,” Bauters said.

Junior co-captain Caitlin Brodmerkel has been vital in helping along some of the newcomers, Bauters said. Brodmerkel’s times are dropping, too – she finished in the Belles’ top-seven for the first time in her career last Saturday. Through her hard work in practice, Bauters said, Brodmerkel leads by example.

“Much of her success is due to her dedication to the summer training program and coming back ready to go,” Bauters said. “I believe we’ll continue to see great things from her this season.”

As for Saturday’s meet, Saint Mary’s expects to be competitive in the middle of the pack. Last year, the Belles placed 17th among the 33 teams, and Gray paced the effort with her 37th-place finish. Though the sheer number of runners in this race presents the challenge of a crowded course, Bauters remains confident her team will have no trouble dealing with the conditions.

“It should be a fun, relaxing weekend without the added pressure [of MIAA competition],” Bauters said. “It’s a good chance for the girls to get on a shorter course, see their times come down, and build a little more confidence moving toward [conference] championships.”