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August 27, 2009

2009 Season - Vikings look for third straight NCAA trip

As long as Paul Olsen has been the head men’s cross country coach at Augustana (and he is entering his 44th season in 2009) the words “optimistic” and “excited” are used often in any pre-season prognosis. The veteran mentor, who last spring had the track at Ericson Field named after him, once again can barely hide his enthusiasm when talking about his team.

There is good reason to be excited because last year his team qualified for the NCAA Division III national meet for the second consecutive season and for the 24th time in school history. With six of the top seven runners returning and 20 letterwinners in the mix, it is fairly easy to see why Olsen can’t wait to get started.

“I’m always excited,” said Olsen who has led the Vikings in cross country since 1966 and in track & field since the 1968-69 school year. “We have tremendous leadership from our seniors and there is a level of confidence with this team that is fun to see.”

The senior trio of Chris Zook (Normal Community HS, Normal, Ill.), Brian Hart (University City HS, St. Louis, Missouri) and Dan Bailey (Deerfield HS, Deerfield, Ill.) will serve as tri-captains. All three have enjoyed tremendous careers so far and are poised to finish their senior seasons in fine fashion. Zook shared the team’s MVP honor a year ago and was the top Viking in the NCAA Division III national meet with a 50th place finish. Bailey has been a top seven performer his entire career and Hart had a superb sophomore season before suffering from an injury as a junior. All three have run under 15 minutes in the 5,000 during track.

Juniors Matt Bowman (Geneva HS, Elburn, Ill.) and Sean Carmody (Winnebago HS, Winnebago, Ill.) were both in the top seven last year. Bowman shared the MVP award with Zook and the graduated Andy Kubiak while Carmody was the team’s third man at the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional. Sophomores Billy Wisser (Hersey HS, Mt. Prospect, Ill.) and Billy TenBusch (Prairie Ridge HS, Cary, Ill.) both claimed valuable national meet experience as freshmen.

Seniors Tom Ries (Iowa City Regina HS, Iowa City, Iowa) and Zack Riley (Winnebago HS, Winnebago, Ill.) along with juniors Tim Faith-Rosley (Glenbrook South HS, Glenview, Ill.) and Brad Keating (Cary-Grove HS, Cary, Ill.) will all make legitimate runs at the top seven. Sophomores Mike Tisza (Hersey HS, Prospect Heights, Ill.), Brandon Gittelman (Naperville Central HS, Naperville, Ill.) and Thomas Christian (Port Angeles HS, Port Angeles, Washington) will certainly be in the mix as well. Junior Ryan Miller (Crystal Lake Central HS, Crystal Lake, Ill.) was in the team’s top five last fall before getting hurt.

While it is always tough for freshmen to make the adjustment to running 8,000 meters, Olsen is high on this year’s class. Jonathan Smith (Moline HS, Moline, Ill.), Nathan Smith (Fenton HS, Bensonville, Ill.), Brian Pollastrini (York HS, Elmhurst, Ill.) and Kyle McNicholas (Carl Sandburg HS, Orland Park, Ill.) have made the biggest splash in the pre-season.

Last year the Vikings wee second in the Brissman/Lundeen Invitational, the Dan Huston Invitational and fifth in the Wisconsin-Oshkosh Invitational and sixth in the Illinois Intercollegiate Championship. That was all during the regular season. In the post-season Augustana took second in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin, fifth in the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional and 21st in the NCAA National Meet. All of that was accomplished without an established number one runner. Four different Vikings took turns as the top finisher throughout the season.

“I think that once again we will be very balanced,” said Olsen, who is a member of both the Augustana Tribe of Vikings and the Illinois Track & Field/Cross Country Coaches Association’s Halls of Fame. “Making it to the national meet is a tremendous achievement, especially given the competition in the Midwest Region. We have been there two years in a row and this team believes it can run with anybody in the nation. This will be a fun team to watch develop.”