By Nichole Boehnke
Big Rapids, Mich. – After running among the best at some the biggest meets of the season a year ago, the Ferris State University's women's cross country team looks to start another solid campaign in 2013.
Head coach Steve Picucci has been working with both the men's and women's teams since taking over the Bulldog helm. He'll embark on his sixth season this fall.
"We have a large group of seniors on this year's team who we will look to for leadership on and off the course," Picucci said.
He was very pleased with how the women performed last year and is looking to post strong results again this year, beginning with the Bulldog Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 7. Last year at the Bulldog Invite, Ferris State dominated the top 10 individual place winners.
Nearing the end of their season last campaign, the women took third place in the 2012 NCAA D2 Midwest Regional meet. The team score finished just below Grand Valley State and Saginaw Valley State in the final listing.
However, it was enough to qualify for the NCAA Division II National Championships at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo., where the team finished 22nd overall. Among the runners competing in the 6,000 meter run at the national meet was senior to be Samantha Johnson from Troy, Mich.
Johnson is in her fourth year on the team.
"Despite some setbacks, I'm feeling confident in my fitness given the time in the season," Johnson said. "I'm excited to see how this year's freshmen perform at the Bulldog Invite. I believe the whole team, girls and guys, want to make it to nationals."
There are seven freshmen additions to the team, and a large group of seniors making up almost a third of the 22 runners, including Johnson, Breeann Ovokaitys from Cedar Springs, Mich., Anna Rudd from Leslie, Mich., and Felicia Slate from Hesperia, Mich.
"It's going to be an uphill battle and we're going to need all our teammates to stay strong, positive, and healthy," Johnson said.
During their preseason conditioning, they battled a lot of injuries that forced Picucci to reevaluate the strengths for the team. The focus for the team right now is to get healthy and back to training to be successful down the road.
"Grand Valley State is favored to win the NCAA Championship," said Picucci. "But other strong teams that we will be competing against for a national qualifying spot also include Malone, Ashland, Southern Indiana, SVSU, Northwood, Wayne State, Bellarmine, Wisconsin Parkside and Cedarville."
After the annual Ray Helsing Bulldog Invite is the Michigan State Spartan Invite September 13 in East Lansing. The NCAA Championships are in Spokane, Wash., this year on November 23