With two meets for the Panther cross-country team in the books, the season for Eastern and the rest of the Ohio Valley Conference is in full swing.
The conference is looking contested this year with Eastern Kentucky leading the men’s side, and Southeast Missouri and Eastern leading the women’s side for hopes of a conference title and a national championship invite.
There are many successful runners this season in the Ohio Valley Conference — from newcomers to veterans.
Some of the promising runners in the conference include freshman Gilbert Bolt of Tennessee Tech, sophomore Erick Rotich from Eastern Kentucky and junior Maria Baldwin of Eastern.
These runners will look to earn multiple OVC runners of the week awards and break PRs throughout the season.
Baldwin helped the women capture the EIU Walt Crawford Open to open their season.
The Eastern men also took first place in the event.
The Panthers could not find the same success the following week at the Illinois State invite.
The women took fourth out of 10 teams. The men were almost able to get back-to-back wins but took second place behind Iowa.
Eastern had this weekend off from competition, but the Panthers will head to the Notre Dame invitational on Friday.
For the strongest teams on the women’s side of cross country, besides the favorite Eastern Kentucky, two currently stand out as possible conference champs — Southeast Missouri and Eastern.
Southeast Missouri holds the top two times for the 5K and the 4K with times of 17:24.1 from senior Megan Parks and sophomore Kaitlyn Shea with a time of 17:30.3 in the 5K.
The two have times of 14:21.9 and 14:05.1, respectively for the 4K.
Baldwin has won back-to-back OVC female runner of the week and will look to continue leading the team.
The strongest team in the conference is Eastern Kentucky, according to preseason ranking, finishing No. 9 in the polls on the men’s side.
They are just behind many schools in the nation such as Syracuse (No. 1), Stanford (No. 4), Arkansas (No. 6) and Washington (No. 8), as well as being ranked higher than other notable schools like Wisconsin and Oklahoma.
Eastern Kentucky has all seven of their top runners from last year’s team returning as well.
So far they have had Rotich named the male OVC runner of the week once as well as being named the National Athlete of the Week on Sept. 13.
Eastern Kentucky is looking for another successful year as they finished 17th in Nationals last year.
Both the men’s and women’s team won the conference title in 2015.
The season for each team consists of around five meets before the conference meet held this year at Belmont Oct. 29 at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, Tenn. The NCAA Midwest Regional will be Nov. 11 in Iowa City, Iowa, and the NCAA Championships will be Nov. 19 in Terre Haute, Ind.
Alex Hartman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]