DEARBORN, Mich. – After one of the most successful seasons in program history, the University of Michigan-Dearborn cross country programs return in 2019 with their goals set even higher.
The UM-Dearborn men's team set a program-best with a sixth-place finish at last year's Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Championships, while freshman Ryan Exell was named the league's Newcomer of the Year and qualified individually for the NAIA National Championship. The men also won an event as a team for the first in school history, taking the 2018 Lansing Invite.
The Wolverine women had a strong showing at the WHAC meet as well, finishing eighth, led by Victoria Hebda in 29th place.
This season, UM-Dearborn head coach Joe Horka, in his seventh season, has his largest squad to date and has scheduled on a national scale for the first time. The Wolverines will travel to at least three different states in the regular season, including the team's first trip to the west coast.
"It's exciting to see the growth of the program," Horka said. "A larger roster size has provided depth during races, allowed runners to break into groups closer to their abilities during workout, and has helped grow and develop our team's work ethic and culture. Our new additions have been exceptionally committed thus far and should play a big part in our program throughout their careers."
UM-Dearborn opens the 2019 season at the Detroit Mercy Titan Invitational at 11:15 am Saturday at Cass Benton Park in Northville, Mich., with the women starting the event. The Wolverines travel to the Rumble in the Fort hosted by WHAC foe Indiana Tech on Sept. 13 in Fort Wayne, Ind., followed by The Master's Invitational on Sept. 28 in Santa Clarita, Calif.
The Wolverines head south to the Louisville Classic on Oct. 5 in Louisville, Ky., and will close the regular season with a WHAC conference tune-up at the NAIA Great Lakes Challenge on Oct. 26 at Riverside Park in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The postseason will get underway with the WHAC Championships on Nov. 9 at Riverside Park, while the 2019 NAIA National Championships are set for Nov. 22 in Vancouver, Wash.
The 2019 team is the largest in program history with 21 men and 21 women set to compete this season. The men return two NAIA National Championship qualifiers. Ryan Exell enters his sophomore season after a breakout first season with the Wolverines and is joined by fellow sophomore Josh Mussen, who qualified for nationals in 2017. The women will be led by juniors Victoria Hebda and Julia Cercone in 2019.
Horka is excited about his newcomers and sees several contributing with meaningful races this season, including Austin Vensko on the men's side, as well as Mikayla Borg and Kylie Callison for the women.
"I'm hoping this is the year in our program's relatively short history that we compete with schools within our conference that were previously out of reach," Horka said. "If we're able to do that, our other individual and team goals will fall into place."