The Western Washington University's men's cross country team doesn't lack any motivation entering the 2013 season.
Not only is the team coming off its worst finish at nationals in recent history - a 21st-place finish after entering nationals ranked 10th - the team will embark on its season minus its top runner, Dak Riek.
Riek, an All-American who placed 37th at nationals last year, was ruled ineligible just weeks before the start of the season. His unexpected loss means others, like senior team captain Tanner Boyd, are going to have to shoulder pieces of the burden Riek was expected to carry as the No. 1 runner.
"When me and Dylan (Peterson) found out the next day after our coaches knew was the day before our whole team came into town for our first beginning-of-the-year meeting," Boyd said in a phone interview. "We let the team know, and they were all shocked. They didn't know what to do. ... We told (them) everyone has to step it up, like us captains and returners. Everybody has to do their part."
Boyd said there is little doubt that this team can overcome the loss of Riek.
While his expectations for the season have tempered a bit following the loss of Riek, his belief is that this group can still contend as a top-10 team nationally. The only part now that remains to be seen is how the team will perform come race time. Fortunately, Boyd and the Vikings won't have to wait long as they open up the season at the Central Washington Apple Ridge Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 7, in Yakima.
The men's cross country team isn't without talent. The Vikings return four runners that made it to nationals last year, including seniors Chip Jackson, Boyd and Peterson, as well as junior Tabor Reedy.
Jackson takes the mantle as the team's most accomplished returner, placing fourth at regionals last year while earning West Region and Great Northwest Athletic Conference All-Star honors.
WWU coach Pee Wee Halsell holds particularly high expectations of Jackson, who he believes can take over as the team's top runner.
"(Jackson) is a talented individual," Halsell said in a phone interview. "We believe in Chip ... and we are excited for him."
Jackson won't have to shoulder that burden alone, though, as the team is going to focus more on running together as a group rather than isolating one or two runners out in front, Boyd said.
"We're really just focused on pack running this year," Boyd said. "We're just looking to pack it up and finish in the top 5, really close together. ... We got fourth (at nationals) four years ago not because we had that top runner, which we did, but more importantly because we ran as a pack."
2013 WWU MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY SCHEUDLE
Date Opponent Time
Sept. 7 at Central Washington Apple Ridge Invite (Yakima) 10 a.m.
Sept. 14 at Sundodger Invitational (Seattle) 9 a.m.
Sept. 21 at Eric Anderson Invitational (Spokane CC) 10 a.m.
Sept. 28 at Saint Martin's Invitational (Lacey) 10 a.m.
Oct. 12 WWU Classic Invitational (East Lake Padden) 10 a.m.
Oct. 26 GNAC Championships (Monmouth, Ore.) 10:30 a.m.
Nov. 9 NCAA Division II West Regional (Spokane) 10 a.m.
Nov. 23 NCAA Division II National Championships 10:30 a.m.
2013 WWU MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY ROSTER
Runner Year Hometown
Briann Bates Jr. San Anslemo, Calif.
Tanner Boyd Sr. Camas
Dylan Brown So. Auburn
Zachary Bursell So. Juneau, Ak.
Juan Castillo Jr. Lake Stevens
Sean Eustis Fr. Washougal
Cameron Freshwaters Fr. Tacoma
Logan Giese Fr. Spokane
Isaac Griffith So. Spokane
Chip Jackson Sr. Shoreline
Cory Johnson Fr. Enumclaw
Will Jones So. Vancouver
Matthew Lutz Fr. Bremerton
Cody McCranie Fr. Auburn
Nick Murphy So. Seattle
Hayden Palmer Fr. Prescott, Ariz.
Dylan Peterson Sr. Seattle
Ryan Peterson Fr. Seattle
Brian Piette So. Vancouver
Marty Pletcher So. Sammamish
Jonathan Quimby Jr. Ferndale
Tabor Reedy Jr. Poulsbo
Joshua Reiter Jr. Camas
Nathan Richards Jr. Longview
Noah Ripley Fr. Wasilla, Ak.
Trevor Robinson Jr. Seattle
Max Romey Fr. Anchorage, Ak.
Tyler Schwecke So. Woodinville
Dustin Sjoerdsma So. Redmond City, Calif.
Andrew Wise Fr. Denver, Co.