WEB EXCLUSIVE: Men’s cross-country team aims for best-ever finish at SLIAC championship

Tony Morales
Webster University senior Tony Morales had the best time of the day for the Gorloks at the Illinois College Invitational on Oct. 15 in Jacksonville, Ill. PHOTO BY BLAKE HARRIS

Winning the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship may be too tall a task for the Webster University men’s cross-country team. Instead, senior Tony Morales said the Gorloks have their eyes set on placing third, which would be the best finish in program history.

“The goal is to get third, and I guess to do that, we really have to run faster than we’ve ever run,” Morales said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Webster finished sixth out of eight teams at the SLIAC championship last year and fifth out of six teams in 2009. The Gorloks did not have enough runners to qualify for a team score in 2008, which was the men’s program’s inaugural season.

Greenville College, last year’s SLIAC champion, and Principia College, last year’s runner-up, are heavy favorites to hold onto the top two spots this year. Spalding University, Fontbonne University and Westminster College will be the Gorloks’ main competition for the No. 3 spot.

Webster tuned up for the SLIAC championship – which will take place on Oct. 29 in Hillsboro, Ill. – by participating in the Illinois College Invitational on Oct. 15 in Jacksonville, Ill. The Gorloks finished 11th in a field of 13 teams. The difference between 6th-place Lindenwood University-Belleville and 11th-place Webster was only 19 points.

“The middle teams were all really tightly bunched together,” said Dusty Lopez, men’s and women’s cross-country coach. “We ran without our normal No. 4 runner, (junior) Blake Harris. He’s been having some illness issues. If we put him in there, I think there’s a pretty good chance we would have moved up even a couple of spots.”

Morales, the lone senior on the 2011 roster, was the top Webster finisher at the IC Invitational with a time of 28:02, which tied his personal record for an 8K event. Morales finished 22nd out of 82 individuals.

Freshman Jason Hickson finished second for the Gorloks and 26th overall, nine seconds behind Morales. Junior Dan Henkey (36th overall), freshman Nate Hitchcock (57th) and junior David Koppelmann (69th) rounded out Webster’s scoring.

Morales said the Gorloks will have to battle through lingering injuries to reach their potential at the SLIAC championship.

“Little injuries that we all have to kind of watch so they don’t get serious,” Morales said. “Dan has knee problems and shin problems. Dave has knee problems. We all have our own individual problems that we’re working on. Dan and Dave’s are more serious. It’s not like they can’t run, they just really have to watch themselves.”

At the IC Invitational, SLIAC competitors Westminster and Principia finished eighth and ninth, respectively. Lopez said his team is looking forward to racing against those teams and the rest of the SLIAC schools come Oct. 29.

“I told the guys, ‘Hey, we’re going to have another crack at these conference schools in a couple weeks,’” Lopez said. “It looks like a pretty tall order to beat everybody, but I still think we could be on track for our best-ever finish as a team. That’s their goal.”

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