SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Finally, the Bellarmine University men's cross country team was able to compete at nearly full strength.
And on Friday at the National Catholic Invitational, the Knights showed exactly what can happen when that occurs.
Led by a commanding performance from sophomore Chris Striegel, the Knights placed second overall in the College Division at Notre Dame Golf Course. Loras placed first in the 8K event with 39 points, while BU had 76 followed by Walsh (79), Aquinas (103) and Great Lakes Valley Conference rival Lewis (141) in the 23-team field.
"Overall, I saw some encouraging signs," said Jim Vargo, BU's director of cross country and track and field. "Certainly the men are much improved from last year."
A big reason why is Striegel, who was the runner-up in the 274-member field that included a Division I group of athletes that comprised the NCAA DI division. He finished in 25:00.2, second only to Canisius' Chad Maloy (24:49.8). Striegel topped all College Division participants.
"He showed he will be a major force in the GLVC and D-2," Vargo said. "His second-place finish matched former All-American Rob Sandlin for the top finish ever by a BU runner at Notre Dame."
Sophomores Nathan Wilkey (37th, 26:01.5) and Nick Christensen (39th, 26:04.5) also placed within the top 40 overall. They were ninth and 11th, respectively, among the College Division competitors.
Junior Thomas Cave (85th, 26:52) was next for Bellarmine followed by sophomore Josh Rodenberg (88th, 26:53.5), who missed last season due to injury. They finished 26th and 29th, respectively, among the College Division runners. Vargo noted that sophomore Joe Drabot (94th, 26:59.3, 31st in College Division) "showed the most year over year improvement and was battling all race to finish in the top 5 for us."
While pleased with his squad's performance, Vargo said the Catholic Invitational also showed the Knights where they need to improve.
"The extremely humid conditions with soft turf slowed the times quite a bit," he said. "We know we have to run better to meet our goals as a team. We have to move our Nos. 2-7 runners up from where we were today. The time spread from Chris to our Nos. 4-7 runners was far too much to contend at the level we expect to be at. We'll find out a lot more about ourselves in two weeks at Greater Louisville."