MUNCIE, Ind. - - Months of preparation culminate Saturday for the Ball State cross country program when it approaches the start line at 11 a.m. for the 2012 Mid-American Conference Championship Meet hosted by Buffalo at the Beaver Island State Park in Grand Island, N.Y.
The 6K meet, BSU's first at that distance this season, is setting up to be one of the best in recent memory as two-time defending MAC Champion Toledo enters the race ranked 20th in the latest USTFCCCA NCAA Division I Women's Cross Country National Coaches Poll.
The Rockets are also the fourth-ranked team in the Great Lakes Region entering the race, and are joined on the list by Miami (9th), Ohio (10th), Eastern Michigan (13th) and Central Michigan (15th).
Despite not appearing in the rankings, the Cardinals are poised for a strong performance at the MAC Championship meet, having shown steady improvement over the course of the 2012 season. In BSU's latest race, the Ball State Invitational run at the Muncie Elks Country Club Oct. 5, the Cardinals' top five runners combined for a season-best average time of 18:49.08 with the top three runners each posting career-best efforts.
Senior MaryKate Mellen (Michigan City, Ind./Michigan City) is the Cardinals' top runner entering Saturday's league meet, having led BSU in each of the last 11 races dating back to last season. In BSU's last outing, Mellen posted a career-fast 5K time of 18:08.70 to win the Ball State Invitational. Mellen's top 6K time came at the 2011 MAC Championship when she placed 32nd overall with a time of 22:16.3.
At last year's league meet, hosted by Ball State at the Muncie Elks Country Club, the Cardinals' top five runners combined for an average 6K time of 22:51.8, knocking off over five seconds from the team's combined effort in 2010. BSU's combined score of 227 in 2011 was also 47 positions better than in 2010, which helped the Cardinals climb two spots in the team rankings from 10th to eighth.
Also returning from BSU's five scored runners at the 2011 MAC Championship meet are junior Esther Tirado (Lafayette, Ind./Jefferson) and senior Emilee Zets (Berlin Center, Ohio/West Branch). Tirado placed 56th overall in the event with a career-fast 6K time of 23:16.6, while Zets placed 64th with a career-best 6K clocking of 23:34.5.
Also returning to the MAC Championships from a year ago for the Cardinals are sophomores Courtney Edon (New Palestine, Ind./New Palestine) and Caitlynn Edon (New Palestine, Ind./New Palestine). Making their first appearance at the event for the Cardinals will be freshmen Katelyn DeVries (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) and Kelly Swift (West Lafayette, Ind./Jefferson).