’Hawks look to improve in 2012

The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is a Division-III powerhouse in many sports, and the Warhawk women’s cross country team has experienced its conference’s dominance firsthand.

“Teams that are competing for the fourth or fifth spot in the WIAC would be in the hunt to win most other conferences,” head coach Jeff Miller said.

The ’Hawks finished seventh out of the 10 WIAC teams last season. This year, the young    ’Hawks look to improve upon that finish behind senior leader Alyssa Duncan, their top returning runner.

This Saturday, the ’Hawks will start the season on their home course. Miller said the Warhawk Invite will feature some tough competition for the women, including runners from UW-Madison.

“The focus right now is trying to look for improvement from year to year on the same course,” Miller said. “The returners will try to run a personal record from a year ago, and for the freshmen it will be their first time racing six kilometers.”

Of the ’Hawks 26 runners on the women’s team, 13 are freshmen or first-time runners. The freshmen have to make the transition from running a shorter distance in high school to the full 6K in college.

Miller said Emily and Amy Kahl, twin freshmen sisters from Huntley, Ill., have been impressive so far. The freshmen runners from Illinois have more distance experience than those from Wisconsin, because they raced five kilometers in high school, compared to four in Wisconsin.

“There’s a huge learning curve for the freshmen,” senior Janna Wise-Bartels said. “It took me most of the season to change my running style to a longer distance.”

Although Miller said Duncan is clearly the team’s top runner, he added that several other impact runners from last season should continue to help the ’Hawks this year.

Sophomore Amanda Brom and seniors Wise-Bartels, Meghan Gang and Alysha Rendflesh are all looking to push the team into the top half of the WIAC this season.

Miller said the focus during the first weeks of the season is on training and practice, rather than racing.

“How you do at conference and regional meets is most important,” Miller said. “In the early season, racing just lets you know where you’re at. The focus becomes more and more on racing as the season progresses.”

In cross country, the offseason is a vital tool for improvement, and Miller said Rendflesh, Brom and sophomore Paeton Wantuch all appear to have taken strides from a year ago. The invite on Saturday, he said, is a good barometer to judge the work the women put in during the offseason.

As far as clear-cut goals for his team, Miller said they only have one right now—to improve upon their seventh place finish in the WIAC last year.

“We will set goals as the season progresses. To be honest, with a young team like we have, we probably won’t be able to set realistic goals until mid-October,” he said.

Wise-Bartels agreed with Miller and said the preseason is too early to predict how a team will perform throughout the season.

“It’s really hard to say what we can expect, especially from the younger runners, but they are all giving  100 percent at every practice, so nothing would surprise me,” she said.

Miller said other hopes for his team go beyond the 2012 season. In addition to looking for a good finish in the WIAC this year, Miller said he’s looking for young runners to step up and show they are ready to fill the void left when seniors graduate.