OXFORD, Miss. - Following a 2010 season that saw Ole Miss Cross Country achieve some of the best results in school history, the Rebel men and women look to carry that momentum into a promising 2011 campaign.
Ole Miss' collection of long-distance runners reported to campus on Aug. 16 and has looked good according to track and field associate head coach Doug Blackwell, who oversees the cross country teams.
The teams continue to prepare for their season debut at the Memphis Twilight Classic on Sept. 3 in Memphis, Tenn.
"Everybody's looking pretty good," Blackwell said. "We only have a couple of people with some nagging things. We get back the core group of women from last year when we had one of our best years but were really young. We add some new people who should come in and put some pressure on the returnees, so we're in really good shape on the women's side. We take a big loss on the men's side with Barnabas Kirui, but we expect the other men to step up and give us a solid team this year."
Senior Logan Waites and junior Katie Breathitt will lead the women's team in 2011. Waites was the top finisher at every meet for the Rebels a year ago and earned the highest SEC finish by a female in school history when she took 16th place. Breathitt made an immediate impact in her first ever attempt at competitive running (she was previously a member of the Ole Miss soccer team for two years). She took 29th place at the SEC Championships.
Between the two, they hold the majority of the Ole Miss long-distance records in indoor and outdoor track, as well as cross country.
"Logan and Katie both have the chance to finish among the top 10 or 15 at SECs, which would be higher than anyone here before," Blackwell said.
"We're looking forward to our best year ever in women's cross country," Blackwell said.
The Rebel men lose three-time SEC Cross Country champion Barnabas Kirui, who became only the fourth runner in league history to earn that distinction last year. He helped Ole Miss place fifth in the conference a year ago, the team's highest since 1996.
The Rebels return a pair of talented Kenyans, however, in senior Martin Kirui (Barnabas' brother) and sophomore Kipchirchir Kiptoo. Martin Kirui was an All-SEC second team and All-South Regional honoree last year. The former SEC steeplechase champion placed 14th at the SEC Championships and 18th at the NCAA South Regional and was Ole Miss' second finisher at every meet. Kiptoo earned SEC All-Freshman accolades after his 25th-place showing at the SECs.
"If Martin steps up to plate, he could finish in the top one, two or three in the conference," Blackwell said. "Kipchirchir had a good freshman year, and we're expecting him to do even better this season."
Other returnees who have had good offseasons and will be counted on in 2011 include sophomore Loren Newsom and junior Riley Young. Several more will compete for a spot in the top five.
In a poll released by the league office this week, the SEC Coaches picked Ole Miss to finish eighth in men's and women's this year.
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