MOUNT VERNON – A new season for Cornell's track and field teams begins under a new leader, albeit one quite familiar with the Rams' running programs.
Dan Schofer, the head of successful cross country teams the past seven years, takes on an additional role this winter and spring as head coach of track and field. The Rams open the indoor campaign Saturday with the Cornell Invitational.
The meet gets underway at 11 a.m. in the Small Multi-Sport Center Arena. The competing field includes Coe, Loras, Mount Mercy, Clarke and the Rams.
Schofer served as assistant track and field coach for six seasons under Lonnie Speidel, who stepped down last spring after 12 years at the helm.
"Our team goals are simple," Schofer said. "We want to get better each week; we want to set the tone for the future in terms of both discipline and team camaraderie; and we want to put our best performances together at the indoor and outdoor conference championships."
On the women's side, Schofer has a trio of 2012 all-conference cross country runners to provide leadership in seniors Leslie Smebak, Maria Helgeson and junior Laura Ettlin. Smebak and Ettlin earned all-region cross country status, and both ran under the school record in the 5,000-meter run last spring. Ettlin is the record holder in 17:59.30.
Smebak, Ettlin and sophomore Hannah Garvey were members of Cornell's all-conference (third place) indoor distance medley relay a year ago.
"Laura and Leslie lead the distance crew," Schofer said. "Both smashed the 5K record last year, and they are hungry for more."
The women's team has 20 freshmen and sophomores making up more than two-thirds of the team. Sprinter/jumper Tynisha Person and thrower Madison Acree have made strides in the offseason and will be counted on to lead the young group.
"Those two sophomores epitomize what our program can do in the next few seasons," Schofer said. "Our women's team is a little deeper than last year, and we should definitely be able to cover more events. We are relatively young, but there's a lot of energy and excitement as we head into our first few meets."
Schofer likes the balance on his men's squad with 21 returning letterwinners mixing in with a promising cast of newcomers. Jordan Kemme, Andy Harter, Ben Swerdlow and Scott Hageman are all three-year letterwinners in the program.
The Rams bring back two members from their runner-up 4x800 relay at the 2012 outdoor conference meet in junior Thomas Guittar and sophomore Jacob Butts. Kemme is coming off a solid cross country season in which he earned all-conference accolades.
"Jordan in the long distances and Thomas in the middle distances should both be big contributors for us this season," Schofer said. "With some strong returners and talented first-year team members, we should be a stronger team this year. We are definitely more balanced between the different groups, although we are a pretty young team."
Harter ran on the all-conference outdoor 4x400 relay in 2011. He and sophomore Brennan Stine lead a talented sprint group that Schofer said is deeper than in years past.
"It will be interesting to see who from that group emerges in the sprints," Schofer said.
The Rams host the Hilltop Invitational Feb. 2, followed by meets at Grinnell (Darren Young Invitational Feb. 9) and Iowa City (University of Iowa Invitational Feb. 15). Cornell competes in the Midwest Conference Indoor Championships Feb. 22-23 in Monmouth, Ill.
This is Cornell's first season back in the Midwest Conference since 1997. The men's program claimed 11 MWC team championships during its first stint in the league, including a sweep of the indoor and outdoor titles in 1989. Cornell's women won the outdoor title in 1981.