BEMIDJI – Craig Hougen has 21 things to be excited about.
The Bemidji State University cross country coach has seen his team’s numbers nearly double this year. Last season, there were 12 runners on the roster but Hougen is anticipating 21 this season – something he attributes to more recruiting and more funding.
“It’s not quite double but we’ve gone from eight to 12, back and forth, for the last couple of years, so 21 is a nice number,” Hougen said.
Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference coaches tabbed BSU 11th out of 14 teams in their preseason poll. Hougen thinks they can do at least one better.
“In general we’re not as fully funded as some of the schools,” he said. “Out of 14 we’re ranked 11th. I’m excited because funding wise we’re probably last. I want to say we’ll be one better. I want to be 10th instead of 11th.”
It’s also important to remember that poll only predicts how well teams will do in the conference meet, set for Oct. 20 in St. Paul. Augustana, which won the national title last year, as well as the conference, was picked to finish first. University of Mary finished fifth in the nation and was picked second.
It’s not an indication of how well teams run over the course of the season. And the Beavers think they’ve been steadily improving for the past few seasons.
“I think we’re going to improve a lot from last year, even,” said senior Tina Larson. “We didn’t finish well in the conference, but I think we did better last year than in previous years. We’ve been doing well overall every year.”
Larson, one of two seniors on the squad, was named one of the NSIC’s runners to watch for this season. She finished in the top 20 twice in meets last season.
Michelle Ohman is the other senior on the team.
“This is the biggest team we’ve had in a long time,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of young girls, about half (freshmen). The older girls, there are a lot less of us, so we’re trying to show them the ropes.”
The Beavers return nine runners in all from last season. Other upperclassmen on the team include juniors Ashley Larva, Sarah Churness, Mackenzie Haupert and Taylor Sautbine.
“I think as a group we’ve been running together well,” Ohman said. “We have a good group of new girls who are running near the top of the pack in practices, which is good to see.”
BSU has its alumni “Babe Run” at 9 a.m. today in advance of their first official meet next Friday, Aug. 31, at Valley City State.
“We should be able to compete well there,” he said. “After that, we’ll just keep working to improve.”