Ball State cross country will have a young roster this season — half of its runners are freshmen.

Freshman Hannah Cummings said the shared youth has helped them bond.

“It’s funny, during lunch today, we were talking about our first freshman meet in high school and reminiscing about the memories of that," she said.

Meet the newcomers

Hannah Cummings: Ann Arbor, Michigan (Saline HS)

Peyton Kneadler: Monticello, Indiana (Twin Lakes HS)

Emma Maddelein: Naperville, Illinois (Naperville Central HS)

Maritza Rodriguez: Indianapolis, Indiana (Ben Davis HS)

Meliza Rodriguez: Indianapolis, Indiana (Ben Davis HS)

Brooke Talhelm: Indianapolis, Indiana (Franklin Central HS)

Emily Tromp: Hibbing, Minnesota (Hibbing HS)

Lauren Whitehouse: Mahomet, Illinois (Mahomet-Seymour HS)

Stephanie McElhaney: Huntington, Indiana (Huntington North HS // Indiana University)

Cummings, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one of eight freshmen to join the program this fall. Distance coach Raynee DeGrio said he loves what the newcomers bring to the team.

“We’ll be a young team,” DeGrio said. “But that’s good because it brings in a lot of new energy and excitement surrounding what we’re doing.”

While there may be a lot of excitement within the program, the rest of the Mid-American Conference has yet to find a reason to believe in the Cardinals. Ball State was voted to finish last in the MAC Preseason Poll for the fourth season in a row.

Although a MAC Championship is likely out of reach, DeGrio said Ball State has more talent than the polls give them credit.

“It doesn’t sound like other coaches have the highest opinion about where we’re going to be," she said. "If we left with a top-eight, top-six finish in the conference, we’d be pretty happy.”

While the team seems to be going against the odds, DeGrio said the returning runners have already played a major role in laying the foundation for this program.

“Senior Erica Rinehart was a big part of the recruiting process last year for us,” she said. “Junior Jess Bryzek is someone who’s really bought into our program. She’s a good embodiment of the team culture and the ‘buy in’ factor. Senior Jordan Timmons led us for a lot of the season and is one of our top returners. She leads by example and really sets the tone for the girls and shows them how we do things.”

Cummings said success may not be too far down the road for the team.

“I think that our biggest goal is to compete and fight for placement and points," she said. "We’re really trying to make a name for ourselves, and I think we can do it this year.”

The Cardinals run in their first meet Sept. 2 at 6:45 p.m. in the Butler Open, at Northview Christian Church in Carmel.