A good mix of freshmen and sophomores have the Vincennes University men’s and women’s cross country teams optimistic as they open their seasons today in the Walt Crawford Open at Eastern Illinois.

Sophomores returning for the men are Logan Busz, Franklin Sanders, Morne Scharnick, Milan Todorovic, Max Kiplagat and Codie Pullon. The freshmen are Joshua Hodge, David McCullough, Manamanya Opiew, Nick Vogt and Hunter Wade.

Kiplagat and Todorovic are coming off strong track seasons for the Trailblazers, though Kiplagat is still a freshman eligibility wise, as he didn’t start at VU until the spring semester last year. They’re joined in the top four by Scharnick and Opiew. Sanders is coming back from an Achilles injury last season, while Vogt is coming off hernia surgery.

“Everyone brings something to the table this season. We have a strong top four. They work well together, and their work ethic is contagious. They may be the strongest group of four that I have ever had the privilege to coach,” VU coach Chris Gafner said. “The 5-9 spots are wide open at this point. (Sanders) has championship experience from high school and is gaining strength. Getting Franklin and Nick back to full strength is important to our team success.

“I have high expectations for our men’s team this season. Once we have everyone on the team fit and fully committed, we will make a lot of noise on the grass this season.”

Sophomores for the VU women are former Big Eight Conference rivals, Lincoln graduate Kaylee Lange and Boonville grad Taylin Brandenberger, though Lange maintains freshman status as a harrier after red shirting last fall due to injury. The freshmen are Meagan Moreno, Emily Remsburg, Shelby Woods and Kyra Young.

Moreno is expected to be team’s top runner right away, with Young and Lange trailing her. Remsburg and Brandenberger will likely round out the top five as Woods is dealing with undisclosed injuries.

“We’re young, but also talented. Meagan is extremely competitive and coachable, and she leads by example every day,” Gafner said. “(Young and Lange) are hard working and focused. As long as their training stays consistent, they will make tremendous progress.

“I view this year as a growth year for the women’s team. Right now we’re establishing a tradition of hard work and the pursuit of excellence. We have the opportunity to have a strong season at the national level, but we need to improve our consistency to reach that goal.”

The Blazers’ meet today begins at 4:45 p.m.

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