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Aug 9, 2012 8:33 PM by Q2 Sports

Jackets ready to run

BILLINGS - With a total of 18 athletes returning to the ranks in 2012, Montana State University Billings cross country coach Dave Coppock has plenty of reason to be optimistic that his two squads could very well be the best they have ever been.

That optimism and experience also brings a healthy set of expectations.

"The 2012 season looks to be one of, if not the best, seasons we've ever had in our program history," stated Coppock. "Both teams are loaded with experience and we are the deepest we have ever been, especially on the men's side which has a large number of seniors who will be very competitive in the conference and NCAA Western Region. "

The men return nine runners from last year despite losing last season's lead-runner, Brian Potter, to graduation.

Daniel Lombardi, Ryan Blomback, Travis Buttelman and Taylor Canfield return for their senior seasons. Tyson Vanderby is also eager to run after redshirting last season.

"We have several (runners) returning who should be running in the 25:00-26:00 range for 8,000 meters, which will make us competitive as a team," Coppock said. "Daniel, Tyson, Taylor and Ryan, along with Junior Chase Robinson, should be leading the returners. We'll also have a great deal of added depth from graduate student Clint Choquette and sophomore transfer Michael Luhr.

"I think the men's team will finish fairly high in the GNAC championships, hopefully in the top-four or so," continued Coppock. "At the NCAA West Regional level, we'll have one of our best chances, ever, to grab a Nationals berth, so we really have to make this season count and the guys know that as well."

MSUB's women return all nine runners from last year's squad.

Leading the charge is senior Whitney Mickelsen who earned All-GNAC and All-West Region honors last season. She also set four school records throughout the season en route to being MSUB's first all-region performer since 2004 and first All-GNAC performer since the school joined the league.

Mickelsen will be joined by fellow senior Mary Owen as well as alongside juniors Melanie Bock and Keri Clump and sophomores Elizabeth Brown, Renae Hepfner and Theresea Lombardi.

"On the women's side, Whitney should be near the top in the GNAC and has an outside chance of qualifying for an individual spot for nationals," Coppock said. "We also have Mary and Renee returning who should show some great improvement over the summer. Newcomers who will add to our depth are freshmen Jinise Osborne and Ashlynn VanVoast, along with junior transfer Blanca Perez. With everyone returning and the addition of our new runners, the women should move up in the GNAC and could be expected to finish in the top half of the league."

Both Yellowjacket squads will compete in five regular-season meets before heading to the conference championships, then on to the West Regional.

MSUB's schedule opens with four straight weeks of competition starting in Helena at the Carroll College Invitational on Sept. 8.

"We have several key meets leading up to the championships including the Rocky Mountain Shootout hosted by the University of Colorado and the Erik Anderson Invitational, in Spokane, which will be the Regional and nationals host in 2013," stated Coppock. "Both meets will feature several, top teams in the country which will give us some experience needed to step up to the level we'll need to be at for the championships portion of the season. Additionally, the NCAA Western Regional Championships will be held in Hawaii this year and I know our runners are very motivated in their summer training in order to have a shot at making those traveling squads to the championships."

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