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Billikens On The Rise In The A-10

The Saint Louis University cross country program is on the verge of turning the corner in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The men’s team is stocked full of young, raw talent that, although inexperienced and still learning to run at the collegiate level, will not be backing down from its challenging conference foes. On the women’s side, a window of opportunity is opening for a well-balanced squad that could be one of the conference’s top teams in the next few years.

Seven sophomores and three freshmen make up the majority of the Billiken men’s roster. Although lacking experience, the program has recruited well in recent years, attracting quality runners.

Billiken coach Jon Bell sees sophomores Michael Scolarici (O’Fallon, Illinois) and Tim Zellmer (Milwaukee) as two of the up-and-coming runners in the conference. “We have some of the best young runners in the conference on the men’s side, so that is encouraging. A lot of youth, which a lot of coaches get leery of having young guys, but this group is so competitive that I think we’ll do pretty well with them.”

Running their first year for the Billikens are former local high school standouts Jeff Orf (Ballwin) and walk-on Nathan Rubbelke (SLUH). Orf is the third member of his family to run for the Billikens. His older sister Hilary, who was a senior last year, is the most decorated cross country student-athlete in the history of the program.

As far as competing with the more experienced teams in the conference, stlou-xcCoach Bell likes his team’s grit. “They’ve all been very successful at the high school level. They’re all state champions or [were] All-State-type athletes in high school, so they are used to competing at a high level—I feel good about them. I’m not worried about them competing hard. They’re not going to be intimidated by running in the A-10.”

Bell anticipates that the men will continue to climb up the standings of the A-10 and improve on last year. “I like to think we’ll have our best program finish [in the A-10]. We can be 8, 9 or 10 [in the conference],” he says.

With balance and experience, the Billiken women’s team is just a small step away from competing at the top of the conference. “I feel really, really good about our women. I’d say we’re very well balanced across the board,” says Bell.

Junior Margo Richardson (Mt. Vernon, Illinois) returns as the women’s top runner and is surrounded by a consistent group of 3, 4 and 5 runners, including Elise Medley (Louisville, Kentucky), Lauren Fyalka (Springfield, Illinois), Natalie Myers (Spring Lake, Michigan) and Jessica Hoefert (Godfrey, Illinois).

“Margo was Freshman of the Year [and] has been All-Conference her freshman and sophomore years. I would kind of expect that she would continue that trend. With Jess, Natalie, Lauren and Elise, I really do feel like we have a complete team for the first time in awhile,” Bell says. Bell sees the improvement of the Billikens’ 3, 4 and 5 runners as key to the team’s success. “Whereas with the last couple years, Hilary and Margo have been low numbers, but the 3, 4, 5 runners’ [times] have been so high that the team scoring has been up. Whereas now, I feel like we have a low number in Margo, and then we have a 3, 4, 5 that are going to be very low as well.

“Over the next two years, I think we have a window of opportunity where we could be a podium-type team. In the next two years, I really feel like we can be a first, second or third team in the Atlantic 10 Conference.”

SLU’s season began with two local meets in early September. The Billiken women placed 8 out of 17 teams at the Washington University Early Bird meet on Sept. 1, while the men finished 9 out of 15. The following week, the Billikens swept 1st place with the men and women winning the Forest Park Cross Country Festival’s collegiate meet. SLU’s road schedule includes the National Catholic Championships in South Bend, Indiana on Sept. 14, the Greater Louisville Classic on Sept. 29 and the Bradley Classic in Peoria on Oct. 12.

The Atlantic 10 Conference Championships will be held in Philadelphia on Oct. 27. Springfield Missouri will host the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 9. 

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