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August 12, 2011

2011 Season - Experienced leadership will be key in 2011

Junior Jonathan Smith and senior Mike Tisza will provide key leadership for the 2011 men's cross country team.

Some things never change and the state of the Augustana men’s cross country program is one of those. Veteran head coach Paul Olsen is entering his 46th season as the Vikings head coach and, as usual, he is expecting great things from his team.

“We have great junior and senior leadership and when you get that, everything else falls in place,” said Olsen who has guided Augustana to 24 NCAA Division III national meet appearances despite competing in the tough Midwest Region. “We have plenty of talent and our juniors and seniors have been just tremendous role models. Our younger runners will get the opportunity to mature and grow as the season progresses.”

A year ago the Vikings were in and out of the top 20 in the national rankings and finished the season ranked 31st in NCAA Division III. They placed eighth out of 39 teams in the Midwest Regional in a field that featured nine teams that were ranked in the top 35 nationally. The goal is to finish in the top five in the region and secure a spot in the NCAA Division III national meet.

“We know that our regional is the toughest in the nation,” said Olsen. “This team has a great positive attitude and it will be fun to watch our kids develop.”

Seniors Mike Tisza (Hersey HS, Prospect Heights, Ill.) and Thomas Christian (Port Angeles HS, Port Angeles, Wash.) will serve as co-captains this season. Tisza was a solid top-five performer during the 2010 cross country season, placing 16th in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin meet. He finished the spring on a high note by winning the CCIW title in the 5000 at the outdoor track & field championship. Christian was in and out of the top seven a year ago.

Three other seniors figure to make legitimate runs at the top seven. Billy TenBusch (Prairie Ridge HS, Cary, Ill.), Billy Wisser (Hersey HS, Mt. Prospect, Ill.) and Brandon Gittelman (Naperville Central HS, Naperville, Ill.) have all been in the lineup at times during their respective careers. TenBusch was the second man at the Midwest Regional last fall.

A strong group of juniors is led by Brian Pollastrini (York HS, Elmhurst, Ill.), Jonathan Smith (Moline HS, Moline, Ill.), Justin Smith (Fenton HS, Bensenville, Ill.) and Nathan Smith (Fenton HS, Bensenville, Ill.). Pollastrini was an NCAA Division III national qualifier in the 10,000 last spring and he, Jonathan Smith and Nathan Smith all competed in the Midwest Regional in 2010. Junior Tommy Harris (Davenport Assumption HS, Davenport, Iowa) and Dennis O’Flaherty (Carl Sandburg HS, Orland Park, Ill.) both have legitimate shots at cracking into the top seven.

“It is always good to have leadership from your older runners and we have that,” said Olsen. “That group is focused and committed.”

Sophomores Tyler Busch (Winnebago HS, Winnebago, Ill.), Isaac Trostle (Willowbrook HS, Lombard, Ill.), Kyle Meyer (Carl Sandburg HS, Orland Park, Ill.), Andrew Allabastro (Lyons Township HS, LaGrange, Ill.), Alex Stockwell (Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn, Ill.) and Cody Sharko (York HS, Elmhurst, Ill.) will also be in the mix as well.

Olsen likes his freshman class as well. “It is a big class in terms of numbers,” he said of the group which numbers 18 first-year runners. “There is also lots of talent but the transition from running three miles in high school to 8000 meters in college is one that takes some getting used to.”

In 2010 the Vikings won the Western Illinois Invitational, took second in the Brissman/Lundeen Invitational and the CCIW meet and placed fourth in the Illinois Intercollegiates and the Dan Huston Invitational.

The schedule will once again be a challenge, starting with the opening week which will see the Vikings host the Early Season Opener on September 1 at Sylvan Island and compete the next day at the Western Illinois Invitational in Macomb, Illinois. Sprinkle in the Illinois Intercollegiate Championship, the Brissman/Lundeen Invitational, Wartburg Invitational and the Wisconsin-Oshkosh Invitational and Olsen is confident his team will be ready for the championship meets at the end of the season.

“We feel that we have a schedule that allows us to run against the best teams in the Midwest on a regular basis,” said Olsen. “It will get us ready for the stretch run at the end of the season.”