Women's team to rely on veterans this season

The Ball State women's cross country team opens what it hopes to be a banner year Saturday when it travels to Indianapolis for the Butler Invitational.

Head coach Sue Parks returns all her scorers from a team that was runner-up at the Mid-American Conference for a second straight year, and is tabbed for second again behind defending champion Toledo.

Leading the Cardinals will be Katie Nowak and Stacie Ritz, who placed second and third, respectively, at the 2001 MAC Championships. The two seniors are the only runners in Ball State history to reach the NCAA Championships. Nowak placed 44th (21:31) in the 2000 meet, while Ritz attained All-America status by finishing 17th (21:04) in last year's meet.

Ritz will sit out the meet with Butler with a lower leg injury, one that Parks said bothered her some last year.

"We're running pretty much the entire squad, but we'll hold out Stacie," Parks said. "She may miss the first few meets, but she has a long time to get ready for the big meets later."

When Ritz is healthy, she will join Nowak in running up front.

"We have a real nice group of five or six runners," she said. "Jill Scully and Sarah Huddleston were solid for us at numbers three and four, for being freshmen. Hopefully they can run well together and close the gap between them and the front."

Parks added that closing that gap will factor greatly into the Cardinals' success in 2002.

"The key to this season is closing the gap," she said. "At times last year it was too large. I think the younger ones learned from last year and establish consistency. We were up and down last year.

"We're looking for a decent start, something to build on. It's important to get a good start, but it's more important to develop as the year goes on."