Sam Stevens is looking for the storybook ending – the hometown boy winning a championship in his own backyard.
Stevens, the lone senior on the squad, leads the Lawrence University men’s cross country team into the Midwest Conference Championships on Saturday with his eye on the Vikings repeating as champions. Stevens will be going for his second consecutive individual title on a very familiar course at Colburn Park in Green Bay, Wis.
“The team goal has always been to repeat,” Stevens said. “Individually, putting myself up toward the front and being the frontrunner is where we need me to be to win.”
Stevens grew up in nearby Suamico, Wis., and was a standout at Bay Port High School. Even though St. Norbert College is hosting the championship, Stevens has the home course advantage on the rest of the field.
“I’ve run there every year since my sophomore year of high school,” said Stevens, who won last year’s title with a time of 25:09.11 over 8,000 meters. Stevens is looking to be the first Lawrence runner to win back-to-back titles since Eric Griffin did it in 1985 and 1986.
“Sam’s run this course, between college and high school, about 20 times. He could pretty much run it with his eyes closed,” Lawrence coach Jason Fast said.
“Sam’s definitely motivated to go in and be the No. 1 runner we need him to be. This is his last conference meet, and I know he wants to go out with a team win. To do that, he has to do his part.”
Stevens was dinged up a bit earlier this season but feels like he is back in top form heading into the weekend.
“I’m feeling good now,” Stevens said. “The last few weeks I’ve been a little sick, a little hurt. I feel like things are going the right way now. I need that to translate into a race. I feel pretty confident with where I am.”
Lawrence won last year’s title with 51 points, edging Grinnell College by two points and breaking the Pioneers’ 14-year stranglehold on the trophy. For the Vikings to repeat, Fast said his team will need to improve over last year’s superlative effort.
In addition to Stevens, the Vikings return three other all-conference performers from a season ago. Junior standout Curran Carlile was fifth a season ago, sophomore Kyle Dockery was sixth and junior Jamie Brisbois was 19th.
“The biggest thing is improving on our performances from last year,” said Fast, the 2011 MWC Coach of the Year. “Going in, we expect to win. We’re going after the title. If you talk to the guys, that’s all they’re thinking about, defending their title and bringing another trophy home.”
The Lawrence women finished fifth last season, and Fast said the Vikings are again shooting for an upper-division finish. While the Vikings were led by all-conference runner and senior Emily Muhs in 2011, freshman Clare Bruning is leading the pack this season. Fast believes Bruning could make the all-conference team this season with a top-20 finish.
“Clare’s done far more than I thought she was going to do coming into her freshman year,” Fast said. “She has flourished under our training program, and she’s doing everything right. She’s working hard and racing smart. She’s seen nothing but positive results throughout the season.”
Soccer in the running
The Lawrence men’s soccer team enters the final weekend of regular season play battling for the fourth and final spot in the MWC Tournament.
The Vikings are 4-4-1 and in fourth place with 13 points. Lawrence wraps up its regular season on Saturday when it hosts Beloit, which is 6-2-1 in the league and already in the tournament.
Grinnell is 4-4-0 with 12 points, and St. Norbert is 3-3-2 with 11 points. Both the Pioneers and Green Knights have two games left and both could still overtake Lawrence.
Lawrence is attempting to make the tournament for the third consecutive year and the fourth time in five seasons.
Barthelmess closing in
Lawrence quarterback Luke Barthelmess is just 287 yards away from breaking the school’s career passing record.
Barthelmess, a junior, now has 5,145 passing yards and is closing in All-American Jim Petran, who stands atop the career list with 5,431 yards.
Mazur tops 200 again
Senior wide receiver Tyler Mazur had a career-high 225 receiving yards against Monmouth last Saturday. Mazur became only the second receiver in recent Lawrence history to top 200 receiving yards in a game twice.
Mazur, who had 220 receiving yards last season against Knox College, matches Appleton native Zach Michael, who topped 200 yards twice in the 2001 season.
Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Director of Athletic Media Relations Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.