Fourth OVC title within reach for men’s cross country team

The men’s cross country team will return six veterans of the 2000 Ohio Valley Conference championship team as Eastern contends for its fourth title in five years.

The goal this season will not only be on a conference title, but a chance at national competition as well.

“The men should be strong right off and our focus is going to be on having one of the best years we’ve ever had,” head coach John McInerney said.

Last season’s conference champion and OVC Runner of the Year Jason Bialka will return for his final.

“We’re looking to close the gap between Jay and the group,” McInerney said. “We need to have between three and five guys chase him.”

Looking to close that distance will be Dan Mackey, Andy Derks, John Sipple, John Jonaitis and Eric Gruberman, who all earned all-OVC honors last season.

“The guys side is loaded and Kyle O’Brien is back and has been running with Bialka for the past two weeks,” McInerney said. “That’s going to take a little pressure off Jay.”

O’Brien also returns to racing after redshirting the cross country season last year.

“We need to get back into the racing mentality and we’ve had a few good workouts already,” O’Brien said. “We’re looking a lot better this year and I think everyone has taken it up a notch.”

The conference continues to look solid this season as Murray State returns a young team and Eastern Kentucky brings a strong core of four veterans. Eastern

`The OVC is at Eastern Kentucky this year, so where as we had the home advantage last year, they have it this year,” McInerney said. “But especially this early in the season, we’re not going to be worrying about other teams.”

This weekend the team will travel to Northern Illinois to race against the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Division III North Central. With Wisconsin continuing to be a leader in the Big 10 and one of the top teams in the nation, Eastern will have its first test of the season.

“We’ve had some sicknesses and people being hurt, but it’ll all come together,” Mackey said. “We’re looking real good.”

Sipple has been sidelined with a rolled ankle while Jonaitis and Adam Marriott are out with illness.