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August 25, 2010

2010 Season - Deep and talented heading into 2010

Mike Tisza and his Augustana teammates are once again looking forward to a stellar cross country season. Augustana will host the Brissman/Lundeen Invitational, the CCIW championship and the Midwest Regional at Saukie Golf Course in Rock Island.

The song remains the same for the Augustana men’s cross country program. Head coach Paul Olsen is entering his 45th season as the Vikings’ head coach and once again he is optimistic about his team’s chances this year. That is standard operating procedure for Olsen as his teams always seem to be mentioned among the elites in NCAA Division III. Nothing appears to be changed this year and the early rankings seem to support that optimism.

A year ago the Vikings were ranked in the top 10 nationally for most of the season before finishing seventh in the talent-laden Midwest Regional. Throughout the course of the year, Augustana won the Western Illinois Invitational and the Wartburg Invitational, placed second in the Brissman/Lundeen Invitational and the CCIW championships and took third in the Illinois Intercollegiate Championship and the UW-Oshkosh Invitational.

Although top seven runners Dan Bailey, Brian Hart and Chris Zook graduated, Olsen does not hesitate in extolling the virtue of this team’s talent and ability.

“We are going to be good,” said Olsen. “We have had more kids report in better shape than ever before. We have the ability to be the best Augustana team in the last 10 years.”

That would be saying something because both the 2007 and 2008 editions of the Vikings qualified for the NCAA Division III national meet, placing 15th and 21st in the nation respectively. However, a wealth of talented runners gives credence to Olsen’s praise.

Heading the list is a quartet of seniors who will handle the mantle of leadership. Matt Bowman (Geneva HS, Geneva, Ill.), Sean Carmody (Winnebago HS, Winnebago, Ill.), Brad Keating (Cary Grove HS, Cary, Ill.) and Ryan Miller (Crystal Lake Central HS, Crystal Lake, Ill.) are all coming off great summers. Bowman, Carmody and Keating were all in the top seven most of last year and Miller was a top seven runner as a sophomore before suffering through injuries as a junior. Bowman was 13th in the CCIW a year ago and was a national meet qualifier in the 10,000 during last spring’s track season. Keating was 17th in the conference cross country meet in 2009.

Those four seniors will get company at the top from a talented junior class. Mike Tisza (Hersey HS, Prospect Heights, Ill.), was 37th in the Midwest Regional while Billy Wisser (Hersey HS, Mt. Prospect, Ill.) was an NCAA Division III national meet qualifier in track in the 3000 steeplechase. Billy TenBusch (Prairie Ridge HS, Cary, Ill.) has been a solid top seven performer throughout his career and was 16th in the CCIW meet last cross country season. Thomas Christian (Port Angeles HS, Port Angeles, Wash.) has improved as much as anybody on the team and Brandon Gittelman (Naperville Central HS, Naperville, Ill.) is on the verge of making a legitimate run at the top seven.

In the sophomore class Jonathan Smith (Moline HS, Moline, Ill.) was 11th in the CCIW last year and was one of just two freshmen in the Midwest Regional to make the all-region team. Brian Pollastrini (York HS, Elmhurst, Ill.) is coming off a great track season. Tommie Harris (Davenport Assumption HS, Davenport, Iowa), Dennis O’Flaherty (Carl Sandburg HS, Orland Park, Ill.) and Nathan and Justin Smith (Fenton HS, Bensenville, Ill.) are also in the mix.

A balanced freshman class will be making the adjustment to collegiate cross country as the season develops but Kyle Meyer (Carl Sandburg HS, Orland Park, Ill.), Andrew Allabastro (Lyons Township HS, LaGrange, Ill.) and Issac Trostle (Willowbrook HS, Lombard, Ill.) should be able to challenge for top seven positions.

“When you look at it, we have four guys in Bowman, Wisser, Tisza and Jon Smith who can compete at a very high level,” said Olsen, who has had a total of 24 teams qualify for the NCAA national meet during his career. “We know we have leadership up front but those spots in the five through 10 range will be the key to our success this year. We certainly have lots of depth and that is always a plus.”

The Vikings also have the advantage of hosting three of the biggest meets of the campaign. Because flooding on the Mississippi River wiped out Augustana’s usual home course at Credit Island in Davenport, Iowa, a switch in venue was necessary. Saukie Golf Course in Rock Island will now be the home of the Brissman/Lundeen Invitational on September 24, the CCIW meet on October 30 and the NCAA Midwest Regional on November 13.