2004 Season Preview (8/11/04)
Coming off a 12th place finish at the NCAA Championship and its third top-25 finish in the last five years, the 2004 Indiana men's cross country team is prepared to continue its expanding tradition of national level success this season.
Under the direction of head coach Robert Chapman, the Hoosiers are starting their fifth consecutive year ranked in the top 20 of the national poll. In addition, the Hoosiers finished third at the 2003 Big Ten Championships, the fifth consecutive year the team has finished in the top five in the Big Ten.
Chapman believes that in order to have a successful post-season in 2004, the Hoosiers need to be well prepared during the regular season.
"Qualifying for the NCAA Championships out of the Great Lakes Region is very difficult. We annually have one of the most difficult regions in the country. Therefore to qualify, we typically need to get quality wins in the regular season over other good teams. Our best opportunities for that will be at the Notre Dame Invitational and the Pre-NCAA meet at Indiana State. We'll need solid performances at both of these meets."
After graduating just two of the team's top seven runners in 2003, Chapman has high hopes for this year's team.
"This is a unique year for us, in that the last athletes in my first recruiting class are now graduated," said Chapman. "They were a very important group in that they created the situation we are in now. The reason we have been a national level team the last four years is because of their talent and commitment to the vision we created together of where this program could go. Replacing them will not be easy."
If there is one team that can carry on the winning tradition that IU cross country has come accustomed to over the past several years, it is the 2004 Hoosiers.
Leading this year's team will be 2003 All-American Sean Jefferson (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic Community) who placed 19th at the NCAA Championships with a time of 29:57.7. In addition to his success during the cross-country season, Jefferson went on to become the national champion in the mile at the 2004 Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Twin brother John Jefferson (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic Community), the Hoosiers' top runner from two seasons ago, will also return to action after sitting out the 2003 campaign with a knee injury.
"The two seniors we lost (Chris Powers and Chad Andrews) were very talented runners, but my hope is that with the return of John Jefferson and the fact that the rest of the team is a year older and more fit, we can potentially place higher at the NCAAs this year."
Other key returners from Indiana's 12th-place NCAA squad from a year ago are Stephen Haas (Huntersville, N.C./N. Mecklenburg), Charlie Koeppen (Carmel, Ind./Carmel), Eric Redman (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central) and Tom Burns (Hammond, Ind./Gavit).
"This may be the most experienced team we will ever have had, in terms of national championship experience," says Chapman.
Counting cross-country, indoor and outdoor track, Indiana's top six returners have a total of 19 NCAA Championship appearances.
Six freshmen will join the team this year and Chapman is excited about their potential. The freshman class includes Paul Coover (LaJolla, Calif./LaJolla), Ryan Dixon (Columbus, Ind./Columbus North), Chris Honig (Glen Ellyn, Ill./Glenbard South), Charles Keating (Phoenix, Ariz./Arcadia), Brennon Plotner (Fort Wayne, Ind./Northrop) and Brian Sullivan (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands).
"I am excited about our incoming freshman class. They are a very talented and diverse group of people, coming from five different states. Five of them made the state finals in the 1600m run as juniors - one each in the states of California, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, and Indiana. They are as talented or more talented than the first recruiting class I had five years ago. These guys are the future of our program and will do very well. I am excited to watch them develop as runners. Our plan is to be patient with the frosh and make sure we use this fall to establish a foundation on which to build the rest of their careers on."
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