Things are looking up for Hillsdale’s cross country program.

After falling short by only 19 points last season, the men are hoping to make the national meet for the first time since 2004. The women are looking to return to the national com­pe­tition with a tal­ented group of freshmen after losing three of their top seven runners from last year’s team.

“There’s no doubt that last year’s class did some tremendous things for our program,” head coach Andrew Towne said. “But we’re really excited about where we’re at on a con­sistent level now. I think we’re in a position to con­sis­tently meet one of our objects, which is to be a podium team.”

Towne also said he was excited that the men’s and women’s team are now “com­patible” in their ability to be suc­cessful. In the past two seasons, the women’s team has placed second and third at the national meet, while the men sent just one runner in 2014.

After only losing one runner from last year’s roster, the men return eight, while bringing on six freshmen and two transfer stu­dents.

Seniors Caleb Gatchell and Joe Newcomb, and junior Tony Wondaal qual­ified for outdoor track nationals last spring and will look to con­tinue their success this fall. Kearney said the team “gained a lot of momentum” during last year’s outdoor track season.

Kearney also said she believes some of the freshmen and transfers will run in the top seven, or even top five, of the team in races.

“It’ll be exciting to see what the incoming people can do,” she said. “Keeping the vet­erans on their toes.”

Newcomb has high expec­ta­tions for himself and his team this season.

“I haven’t made it to nationals, and I haven’t been All American in cross country, so those are my main two goals,” he said. “And then, as far as the team goes, we haven’t made it to nationals in, like, 15 years, so that’s our main goal.”

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The men’s and women’s cross country teams returned to campus last week to begin training for the 2016 season. (Photo: Evan Carter / Hillsdale Col­legian).

This season, the women will return seven runners, along with three freshman, and a walk-on.

Despite losing the eighth and 22nd fin­ishers at last year’s national meet — Emily Oren and Kristina Perkins — the squad is bringing back senior Molly Oren, junior Hannah McIntyre, and sophomore Ally Eads — all of whom qual­ified for the national meet in track last spring.

“Losing Emily Oren, Kristina Perkins, and Kate Wierenga, girls who really put their stamp on this program, I think a lot of people are going to count us out,” Kearney said. “This isn’t a rebuilding year. They’ve developed this tra­dition and a standard, and I’m excited to get that cham­pi­onship notch on our belts.”

McIntyre thinks the team’s remaining ath­letes with national expe­rience are assets.

“Obvi­ously the team is a dif­ferent one,” she said. “But it doesn’t change the job on the team.”

McIntyre also said she has a “healthy expec­tation” that her team will return to the national meet.

Kearney said the freshmen on the team are hungry, and that they should have a smooth tran­sition in becoming part of the team’s culture.

Both the men and women will open up their season at the Spartan Invi­ta­tional in East Lansing on Sept. 16.