By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Starting a new season with half of your team consisting of freshmen new to campus generally means you’ll have some struggle and an adjustment period before you can expect any success. Yet the feeling around the UNO women’s cross country team is anything but uncertain.
As the Mavs prepare for their first meet in the UNO/Creighton Classic on Sept. 3, the team welcomes in six new freshmen that make up exactly half of the team roster. Last year the team was young as well, but it only consisted of 8 members.
With the addition of six newcomers and two returning sophomores, UNO has a roster that has as many underclassmen as it had runners all of last year. However, the rookies aren’t expected to be just faces in the crowd; they’ll be expected to contribute and compete right away.
The Mavs are welcoming Kelsey Green and Mikayla Peck from Papillion-Lavista South, Ashley Kildow from Millard South, Kelly Kinsel from Mercy, Lydia Martin from Marshalltown High in Marshalltown, Iowa and Kristin Rodgers out of Cedar Rapids Washington High in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The new group of athletes all bring an element of success to the table that Assistant Coach Mark Bierbaum is eager to add to the mix.
“I’m excited, these are some really solid freshmen,” Bierbaum said. “Kristin Rodgers and Lydia [Martin] come from very, very strong backgrounds.”
“[They were] 4A state qualifiers in track and cross country. Lydia is a Drake relays qualifier in the 1500 and 800 relay, couple other things. They’re both really solid.”
Kristin Rodgers was a four-year letter winner in cross country at Cedar Rapids Washington, served as team captain as a senior and was the team MVP. Last year Rodgers was all-metro and all-conference and second team all-metro in cross country.
When Rodgers was qualifying for the Iowa state meet she posted the third fastest 4K time in school history. But it wasn’t just last year.
Kristin Rodgers also was first team all-metro and all conference as a junior. Rodgers has helped lead Cedar Rapids Washington to the Mississippi Valley Conference championship in cross country and runner up in track.
Like her fellow Iowan on the Maverick cross country team, Lydia Martin was also a four-year letter winner and four-year all conference member in cross country and track. Individually, Martin qualified every year for the state meet in cross country and track from her freshman year to her senior year.
Rodgers and Martin are the two non-Nebraskans that give the UNO women’s cross country team hope for the future. Two of the Nebraska athletes come from an established winner and the other two have a lot of promise ahead of them.
“Mikayla [Peck] and Kelsey [Green] are from the state champion Papillion-South in Nebraska, Bierbaum said. “Mikayla was their top runner for the last three or four years. She was top five in the state the last two years in class A.”
Peck and Green weren’t just members of the Titans though. Like the other Maverick newcomers, they were four-year letter winners but also were top-10 finishers in the state meet and were meet winners in their careers.
Peck saved her best for last finishing eighth overall in the state cross country meet and Green won the Creighton Prep Invite as a senior. Both runners helped the Papillion-Lavista Titans to a third place finish last year and achieved a championship as seniors.
The two other freshmen from here in Nebraska are Ashley Kildow and Kelly Kinsel. Though they can’t claim a cross country state championship from last year, they both competed at a state championship level.
Kildow was part of Millard South’s state championship 4 X 400 meter relay team and Kinsel helped Omaha Mercy to an eighth place finish in the Nebraska State Cross Country Championships last year.
“I think Mikayla, Lydia, Kristin and Ashley, these four, I think they’ve got a shot at the top five, top seven,” Bierbaum said. I definitely think so.”
All of the six freshmen are part of Bierbaum’s efforts to locate local talent and bring them to UNO. As the Mavs build toward a Division I program, Bierbaum’s first concern is getting the local talent to stay in the area and come run for UNO.
His first recruiting class certainly shows a commitment to that effort.
“A lot of the Omaha kids…I’m from Iowa originally so I know of the programs in Iowa,” Bierbaum said “We’ll focus on that. We’ll focus with southwest Iowa and the Omaha region, into the Lincoln region because I know those coaches. I coached high school in Neb. and grew up in Iowa so it works out.”