The Butler men’s and women’s cross country teams enter the 2012 season in an unfamiliar position in their new home in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Coach Matt Roe said that while the Bulldogs were consistently at the top in the Horizon League, the team will face a higher quality of competition in the A-10 this season.
“I think (the A-10) is a stronger conference than the Horizon League overall, and the field will be more crowded,” Roe said.
The team will find themselves looking up at La Salle in their new conference
The Explorers were the winners of both the men’s and women’s A-10 titles last season.
The Butler men are coming off a streak of 14 straight Horizon League team championships. The women’s team had won nine of the last 10 Horizon titles, including the last three.
La Salle has won eight A-10 men’s cross country titles in the last 13 seasons while the women have won seven A-10 championships in the last 11 seasons.
La Salle will be returning senior Alfredo Santana, the 2011 A-10 Most Outstanding Performer, who won last year’s conference championship race.
The Explorers also return three top 12 finishers from last season’s A-10 conference championship race on the women’s side.
Senior Shelbi Burnett, last year’s Horizon League Female Cross Country Athlte of the Year, said she thinks the task of being the underdogs to conference favorites La Salle will give the team additional motivation.
“It’s a good position to be in because that gives you that kind of fire,” Burnett said. “It lights a fire underneath you to train harder and be faster, and ultimately, that’s what leads to greater success.”
Butler will be without last year’s Horizon League Male Cross Country Athlete of the Year Callum Hawkins, who was academically dismissed by the university.
First team All-Horizon League junior Ross Clarke and sophomore Tom Curr are the top returning members on this year’s squad.
Senior Kevin Oblinger and sophomore James Martin will also be back after their top-10 finishes in last year’s conference championship race.
Burnett will return as well as four other runners from last year’s conference-championship team.
Butler will have to cope with the absences of Lauren Haberkorn and Rebecca Howarth, who finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in the 2011 conference championships. Both graduated last year.
Burnett said facing unknown opponents in the A-10 might not be much of a drawback.
“There’s a lot we don’t know, obviously, but that’s kind of an advantage because being naïve isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to running,” Burnett said. “I think the biggest challenge will be going in with the confidence that we know we can compete well, no matter the competition.”
Roe said that the teams would not change their collective philosophy because of their location in the preseason rankings.
“We’re going to prepare the same way and do the best to our ability and get the best result we can,” Roe said.