After placing second in the 2002 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships, the Beavers are looking to take the title and get back to their 2000 form when they won their first ever title in the sport.
Head coach Craig Hougen, who serves as the women's cross country head coach at BSU, points to the performance of his underclassmen.
"It depends on the freshmen and sophomores and how they come along," said Hougen. "I do not have as many juniors and seniors as that year but we will have to see. Overall, we have a lot of potential but really numbers is the name of the game, especially in the middle distance events. There are so many events where you have to have a bunch (of athletes) step up and perform for you."
Of the 39 athletes on the roster, 13 of them are listed either a middle distance or distance performer.
Out of the whole bunch, 25 of the total are underclassmen, 15 of which are first-year athletes. However, the young crop of athletes can be an advantage, according to Hougen, only if they wear the green and white for a couple years.
"We will be fairly young but we have a legion of throwers for us," said Hougen. "If they stay for three years we will be very good."
One performer who will be missed is the 2002 indoor athlete of the year in Aaron Feia due to graduation.
"That was a big loss in having Aaron graduate," said Hougen. "We lost six seniors that were very good for us plus the school record holder."
Two areas that Hougen sees as BSU's "bread-and-butter" will be the distance and middle distance events.
"The distance and middle distance is our strong suit," said Hougen. "There are 18 guys in that area. Steve Leuer is the distance guy - he will score many points for us. Corey White is going to be a leader in that area as he has worked very hard in the fall."
Other athletes that Hougen expects good things from is junior sprinter Jason Carlson (Milaca, Minn.), sophomore jumper Steve Schreiber (Chisago Lakes, Minn.) and freshman sprinter Tristan White (Portland, Ore.).
"I think that sprinter/hurdler Jason Carlson is going to be good," said Hougen. "This is his second year with me after transferring from a junior college. What he did in the time trials would have placed him second or third in the conference. Schreiber is a 6'10" high-jumper. I think that he is going to be good as well. White is a sprinter from Oregon who could be very special. Let us just see what they all can do."
Hougen sets some pretty high expectations for his program and is disappointed in falling short of that goal.
"I see us winning it or taking second. We have a good group of distance (runners), throwers, sprinters and hurdlers. But, there are so many variables right now to say where we will finish for sure. One kid getting hurt could mean the difference. I would be a little disappointed in taking third in the conference."
As far as other contenders in the race for NSIC supremacy, Minnesota-Duluth, which has won eight of the last 10 titles, and Northern State, which was the co-champion in 2001, will be right in the mix.
"I think Minnesota-Duluth will battle with us and so will Northern State for that top spot," said Hougen.
With the women's squad taking seventh at last year's NSIC Indoor Track & Field Championships, there is a certain mystery about the 2002 edition, according to coach Hougen.
"I hope we finish middle of the pack (at conference)," said Hougen. "There is a certain unknown there. The distance group might be the ones to lead (the team) to start out the season. Christa Pribula, Martha Miltich and Josaleen Muzquiz are going to be very good and score some points for us."
Freshman Christa Pribula (East Grand Forks, Minn.), who was an all-conference runner this fall, took ninth at the league championships. Meanwhile, sophomore Martha Miltich(Cohasset, Minn.) placed 15th for her second straight top-20 finish at the league meet. Senior Josaleen Muzquiz(Detroit Lakes, Minn.) had the third-best finish on the squad at the NCAA regional meet in November.
These distance runners may be the strong point of the Beaver squad because of the fact that they are already conditioned after the fall cross country season. With these runners coming into the indoor track season, many of them are in shape and ready to go.
"They all have a very good work ethic that was developed during the cross country season," said Hougen. "It is a very positive experience to have them in shape and leading everyone else through the workouts. I think, by far their season carries over and is a great advantage for us."
Like the men, the women's program is full of youth as there are 17 underclassmen, including 11 freshmen. A couple of youngsters that Hougen sees good things coming from this season are sophomore jumpers Megan McCrady (Montgomery, Minn.) and Amy Taylor (Estelline, S.D.) and freshman thrower Erin Suhonen (Wright, Minn.).
"McCrady is an All-NSIC pole-vaulter and looks to be very good in her workouts right now," said Hougen. "I think that Taylor is going to be okay. Suhonen will break the school record right away but will be in the middle of the pack in the NSIC. She is getting stronger and learning what she needs to do to get it done."
Also, Hougen points to junior sprinter Melanie Hoheisel (Pengilly, Minn.) as a big asset for the squad. She was an all-conference performer in the pole vault and "will be very good."
In looking at where the conference will stack up at the end of the season, Minnesota-Duluth will attempt to take its 10th straight crown and 12th out of 14 possible championships.
"Duluth is pretty close hands-down the favorite," said Hougen. "They have so much more than everybody else and twice as many walk-ons. Northern State will probably finish second and then third is kind of up for grabs. Wayne State, Minnesota State, Moorhead and us should all be right there."
Both the men and women participate in their first event at the Northwest Open hosted by the University of Minnesota this Saturday. Events will get under way at 9:30 a.m. For more information on the schedule and heat sheets for this event, visit www.gophersports.com.
**Note: Sophomore Janell Rook (Alexandria, Minn.) is an addition to the 2002 NSIC Fall Sports Academic Team. She joins six other cross-country runners from BSU as there were a total of 25 Beavers who were on the squad.