Jason Fast is a man whose team is following his plan.

The Lawrence University cross country coach has honed how he trains his teams through years of exposure to some of the best coaches in the nation.

Fast has seen adherence to the plan pay off in spades early this season as both of his teams have won a title.

“Their success echoes their commitment to our plan and our program,” said Fast, who has one Midwest Conference championship to his credit in his first four seasons as the head coach. “If you look up and down the line, everyone has gotten so much faster. It’s not just our top runners, it’s everyone on the team.”

That is especially evident with the Lawrence women’s squad. The Vikings finished eighth at the Midwest Conference Championships last season, and had one all-conference runner in seventh-place finisher Clare Bruning.

Bruning, a sophomore, hasn’t finished better than third on her own team in two meets this season. Sophomore Liz Landes turned in the finest race of her career this past weekend at the Concordia (Wis.) Invitational to lead the Vikings. In the opening race of the season at St. Norbert, it was senior Anna Ratliff that led the Lawrence pack.

It has truly been a pack mentality for the Lawrence women, whose top five runners were separated by just seven places at St. Norbert and by just 13 places at Concordia.

“It’s been really fun to watch (the women) race so far. It’s a great feeling to see all seven of your runners together,” Fast said. “They have all managed to stay near each other regardless of how each of them is feeling. There is a strength to their pack. They pull each other along and encourage each other.”

In addition to Bruning, Landes and Ratliff, the Vikings are also seeing fast performances from senior Katherine Dannecker and a pair of rookies, Kristen Bischel and Amy Hutchings. With the strong start, Lawrence now finds itself in a position to be one of the contenders in the conference.

“I don’t see anything really slowing us down,” Fast said. “One of main goals for this next month is to stay healthy and train smart.”

Lawrence finished second in the conference on the men’s side last year, but the Vikings lost former league champion Sam Stevens to graduation. The Vikings did return all-conference runners in Curran Carlile, Jamie Brisbois and Kyle Dockery, and they are building on that foundation.

“All of our returners made big jumps over the summer and made big steps,” Fast said. “They knew they had to. They all took responsibility. I feel like we’re a better team than we were last year, even without Sam.”

Making a huge leap forward has been sophomore Jonah Laursen, who has been Lawrence’s top runner in each of the first two races. Laursen took second on the four-mile course at St. Norbert and then grabbed fourth at Concordia and led Lawrence to the team title. Sophomore Cam Davies also is a runner to watch as he improved on his personal-best 8K time by more than a minute last Saturday.

“Having seen them every day in workouts and what they’re doing, I’m not surprised by what they’re doing on the race course,” Fast said of his teams.

“Both teams have work to do, but we are definitely in position to do good things. We’re also ahead of where we last year at this time.”

Topping 100 again

Lawrence quarterback Luke Barthelmess was named the Midwest Conference Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for more than 100 yards and passing for nearly 300 in the one-point loss to Lake Forest last Saturday.

Barthelmess also topped the 100-yard rushing mark in the opener against Cornell, and he is the first Lawrence back to rush for more than 100 yards in consecutive games since Craig Ebert did it in the final two games of the 2008 season.

Barthelmess ran 21 times for 124 yards, a 5.9-yard average, against the Foresters. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 284 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The touchdown pass gave Barthelmess 50 for his career, tying him with Eric Aspenson for second place on Lawrence’s career list.

Swords selected

Sophomore outside hitter Terese Swords was named to the all-tournament team at the Associated Colleges of the Midwest Invitational last weekend at Luther College.

For the four matches, Swords hit .320 and piled up 41 kills, an average of 3.4 per set. She also picked up six blocks and 11 digs.

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.