By DUSTIN MAIN
GREELEY -- Boasting a stellar recruiting class and the return of top-finishers from 2011-12, head coachAmanda Schick and the rest of the Bears have their sights set on a breakout performance as they gear up for fall action.
"The start of the year is something I've been anticipating since the completion of last year's conference meet," Schick said. "Our goal is to improve on the many positive steps we made last season. I can't say enough about the hard work John Gutierrez (distance coach) has put in and what he's accomplishing with this distance program."
On the women's side of the action, the Bears return two top finishers in sophomore Ashley Atkin (Fleming) and junior Nicole O'Dwyer (Limon). Also returning is senior Megan Horsch (Longmont) who spent last season as a redshirt.
The roster of 12 will feature six incoming freshmen, paced by Colorado prep standout, Rikki Gonzales, of Rangeview High School in Aurora.
One of the prominent runners in the state, Gonzales earned three-consecutive all-state nods as a Raider, was a three-time team captain and an all-academic first team selection. This past October, she placed third at the state championships, and owns every significant school distance record. Most recently, she was honored by the Colfax Marathon Partnership as a recipient of the 2012 High School Distance Runner Achievement Award.
"We're going to be a young team, but being young won't define us," Schick added. "With top newcomers like Rikki joining our returners, we have a chance to make a significant leap in the conference standings."
For the men, the Bears return all but one of their top-five finishers from last year. Once again, it will be junior sensation John McCarthy (Monarch) leading the charge for a squad that looks to surprise some Big Sky foes, who picked the team to finish tenth out of eleven heading into the season.
"John looks better than ever and is already taking the workouts to another level. I look for him to achieve some big goals this year. All of our guys are tough as they come and are going to have a great year."
"If our team camp was any indication of where summer training left off, we came ready to work hard and compete harder."
"This isn't the same team from last year. There is a renewed energy and belief that we're better than we have been. Everyone from the coaches to the athletes has a desire to contribute to the growth and progress of this program."
The Bears' begin action at 6:00 p.m. on Aug. 31, as they make the short trek to Fort Collins for the CSU Invite.
On Sept. 15, they travel to the Montana State Invite in Bozeman, Mont., before returning back home on Sept. 29 for the Rocky Mountain Shootout in Boulder.
On Oct. 6, they get their final tune-up at the Metro State Invitational in Washington Park, before gearing up for the Big Sky Championship on Oct. 27 in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Fans can access individual statisics from from each meet simply by clicking the 'statistics' link in the upper right hand menu on the cross country home page.