By: Dayna Hill
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.- With the Fresno State Invitational two weeks away, the Fresno State cross country teams are hard at work training for their home opening races. In his seventh year as head coach Sean McManus' men's team was selected to finish seventh and the women's team was picked to finish eighth by Mountain West head coaches.
Coming off a seventh-place Mountain West finish for the Bulldog men last season, they received 13 points in the coaches' poll this season and will be anchored by seniors Olivier Bernard and Chriss Grimble, the latter being the top finisher for the Bulldogs at the 2013 West Regionals. The Dogs also have four newcomers that will round out their 11-man roster.
"Our top two runners were seniors last year, so we don't have them this year," said McManus. "We have a younger squad this season. This is going to be a year to get good experience. The great thing about having a young squad is that they don't know what they can do."
Cross country school record holder and junior Annemarie Schwanz, will lead the eighth-ranked Bulldog women that received 41 points in the poll this season. As a sophomore she led the squad in all six races in 2013, including an 11th-place Mountain West Championship finish.
"Annemarie ran great for us last season, I am looking forward to see what she will be able to accomplish for us this season," said coach McManus.
The Bulldogs welcome a solid freshman recruit in Mackenzie Landa (San Dimas, Calif.), who many believe was under the recruiting radar when she was in high school. Redshirt senior Carina Mendoza (Madera, Calif.) will also compete this season after running unattached in 2013.
"I don't think that our women's ranking is a reflection of our current team," McManus said. "That poll is based on last year's team, and that's not who we are today. We have a bolstered lineup that I expect to do much better than eighth at the Mountain West Championships, especially with the conference race being on our home course."
Defending champion New Mexico was the coaches' pick to win both titles, with 49 points for the men's team and 97 points for the women's team.
Looking ahead, the Bulldogs will host the Fresno State Invitational on September 5th at Woodward Park and already have five Mountain West Conference members planning to attend the race. The Invitational will start with the men's 6000m race at 8 a.m. followed by the women's 4000 meter-race at 8:45 a.m. The `Dogs not only get to compete against their direct conference competition early in the season, they will also have a chance to do it on the Mountain West Championship course.
"In 2014 I am really hoping for a breakthrough year," McManus said. "This is the best women's team that Fresno State has had in a while. We have student-athletes working hard to earn those top running positions within our team and the competition is great. Julianne Jacques worked her way up last season to be our solid second runner behind Annemarie, and I hope she will continue to work hard with the new additions."
With both the men's and women's pushing one another to run faster, a competitive 2014 running schedule and a coach that believes in all of them the Bulldogs are on track to exceed the Mountain West Coaches' expectations.
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