The preseason coaches poll may not have much faith in Western cross country teams in their inaugural season, as the men’s team is ranked at the bottom of the preseason polls, and the women are ranked 12th out of 13 teams.
Sophomore Derrick Bradford is using that low ranking for motivation.
“The preseason polls came out and we’re 11th out of 11 teams,” Bradford said. ”I have it as my lock screen, so every time I open this phone I’m reminded of why I’m working and what I’m working towards.”
That’s the mentality of this team going into this season. The runners know they’re underdogs, but they’re just letting it fuel their fire. “I think being ranked so low is unfortunate,” Bradford said. “I think we’re really gonna surprise people, turn some heads.”
With a majority of the team being freshmen, it will certainly take some leadership to start off on the right track, so to speak. Leading this group of young runners is coach Marc Bierbaum, who’s a testament to dreams coming true.
“I saw this position and thought about it, to play for a brand new team, to play in the MIAA, it’s always been a dream,” Bierbaum said. Bierbaum is no stranger to the MIAA, as he coached at the University of Nebraska Omaha, which was originally part of Western’s conference before moving up to Division I.
While the women are also ranked near the bottom, senior transfer Nikki Thiede is expecting the team to do much better. “I think we’ve got the people to make a top-five push this year, and we’ve got the youth to make more in the future.”
Bradford thinks the same is true for the men: “This is a top-five, if not top-three team in this conference. We’re gonna shock a lot of people. We’re a great team now, and with the amount of youth we have on this team, we could be a great team for years to come.”
As far as that youth, Bierbaum said that while so much youth on this team is good, there’s also many things to teach these young athletes who are eager to learn.
Thiede explained that, although there are some great runners on this team, running as a team is something that the team can always get better at. Thiede is the lone senior on a team that features 12 freshmen and two juniors.
The men’s team also has 12 freshmen, in addition to four sophomores. Among those sophomores is Brandon Colner, a transfer from Southwest Baptist who competed in the MIAA championships last season.
Bradford also sensed the youth the team could be hard to overcome, he seemed happy to welcome the challenge.
“We’re a new team,” Bradford said. “We’re gonna have to learn, and we’re gonna have to keep getting better day by day. Coach Bierbaum has been great, and he’s taught us great things. We’re learning, and I know this is the year all eyes will be on us, but that just means that we will be better.”
Western looks to take the hand they were dealt in the conference and run with it, as they open up the season Sept. 1 at the Bearcat Open at Northwest. They will face several teams, including the hosts, who placed 19th at the NCAA championships last year.