Stakes high for men’s new front runners

By Kate Fratar

Last season’s record finish raised the bar for men’s cross country. With the loss of its top two runners, the squad has its work cut out for it if it hopes to repeat last season’s success.

Improving upon their 16th-place national ranking in 2004, the Maroons finished last year ranked ninth in Division III, the highest mark in the program’s history. Chicago accomplished the great feat after returning all but one point-scoring runner from the previous season.

Things look a little different for the men’s squad this fall after they lost both of last year’s captains, Pat Hogan and track All-American Teage O’Connor, to graduation last spring. Looking to fill their shoes up front for the Maroons in 2006 include a number of relatively inexperienced runners, including fourth-year Brian Hague and second-year John Ascolese. Many of the athletes taking strides to becoming the team’s top scorers have yet to face off against any NCAA competition in their young careers.

These NCAA first-timers will most likely be taking their cue from fourth-year Emil Bojanov, who is no stranger to national opponents after finishing fourth overall at last year’s All-American Invite. While the Maroons’ drop to 32nd in the rankings hints that this trio and the team still have some ground to cover in matching last year’s form, men’s cross country remains at the forefront in Hyde Park sports as one of Chicago’s two nationally-ranked teams, along with women’s soccer.

While the offseason losses hurt, the Maroons brought in a fresh face whose contributions could pay off in the season’s final weeks. In August, coach Chris Hall brought in David Svoboda as associate coach. The former track and field assistant at Millikin University has shouldered most of the strengthening and training work for both cross-country squads.

“He really grasps what’s going on in cross country,” said Hall. “He’s introduced some new things that are helping with general conditioning.”

All of that work starts coming to a head for the Maroons in four weeks when they travel to St. Louis for the UAA Championships before heading off to regionals and nationals in November.

Spotlight on: Emil Bojanov

After he claimed his place among Chicago’s top runners last year, all eyes will be on the fourth-year from Sofia. The veteran comes into 2006 trying to pick up where he left off last fall. Coming off of a summer in which he won the Bulgarian national title in the 1,500-meter, the track star will have the added burden of team leadership falling squarely on his shoulders. Last season, the Bulgarian native could defer most of that duty to co-captains Teage O’Connor and Pat Hogan. This fall he has no such luxury as men’s cross-country attempts to protect its national and league status as one of the toughest competitors on the course.