The season may be changing for head coach Brian Cashdollar and the Manchester University men's and women's cross country squads, but the main goals remain the same.
They start with trying to add to a current run of four consecutive Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championships. From there, the Spartans hope to be among the contenders for NCAA Division III national meet berths at November's Great Lakes regional.
"I think our men, with the amount of returning experience we have back, will be able to put themselves in position for a chance (to reach those goals)," head coach Brian Cashdollar said. "The women will need to do so with less experienced runners (than the men's team). There are some teams in the conference and region that are similar to what we bring to the table in terms of athletes, so it will be a challenge."
MU has the senior trio of Curtis Nordmann (Bourbon, Ind.), Jon Cafarelli (Lansing, Ill.) and Chris LaFree (South Bend, Ind.) returning after each earning all-NCAA Great Lakes regional honors a year ago. The accolades don't stop with those three, either. Fellow seniors Mike Stocker (Yorktown, Ind.) and Clayton Harlan (Terre Haute, Ind.) were all-Heartland Collegiate Conference honorees as well as Nordmann, Cafarelli and LaFree.
"It's amazing, to me, to see us have five guys back who, at one point in their careers, have run number one or two for us," Cashdollar said. "That is tremendous leadership and experience. It'll be great to have that, as we begin pre-year workouts next week, too. We have several runners, after that group, who know they will be needed to add to our depth."
Included in the Spartans' next set of returning runners are the likes of senior Jordan Collins (Yorktown, Ind.), who gained honorable mention all-conference honors in 2012, and junior Jacob Sweet (Hicksville, Ohio) who placed among the top 35 at the conference meet.
"I think you'll see a similar pattern as last year," Cashdollar said in regards as to who the top individuals will be. "Competition, in camp, will be strong. I'm hoping it creates a scenario where we have gap times between runners during meets lessening, thereby lowering our point totals."
The Black and Gold has three runners coming back who gained honors last season.
The junior duo of Brianna Martinez (Schererville, Ind.) and Cayla Pusey (Fort Wayne, Ind.) ended sixth and eighth, respectively, at the conference meet and finished among the top 100 at the Great Lakes regional championships. Sophomore Anna McGowan (Williamsport, Ind.) adds to that behind an honorable mention all-HCAC award.
"From what I've seen early, I'm impressed with how these women are leading their team," Cashdollar said. "During track and field last spring, they held their teammates accountable for workouts and so forth, and I've heard the same theme anecdotally for the summer.
"We'll need that to continue," he added. "We feel like we have a strong first-year class coming in, but leadership will be a big key."
Beyond the three all-league returners, MU can draw from Aubrey Smith (South Whitley, Ind.) and Megan Taylor (Portland, Ind.), also juniors, who both finished among the top 40 at the HCAC meet. Sophomore Kara Smith (Kewanna, Ind.) also had a strong conference championships' experience last season, placing 45th.