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USF runners look to shake off the cold

Bob Braman was disgusted.

This time last season, his USF men's cross-country team had finished seventh in the Conference USA meet at Marquette. The weather was cold and miserable. The Bulls had just one runner crack the top 10. And the coach known for his trademark enthusiasm didn't have much.

Fast forward a year. Now Braman can't wait for Saturday's C-USA meet at the USF Golf Course.

"We've waited a whole year for this," Braman said. "We're not going to finish seventh this year, you can believe that."

Braman's confidence is rooted in an off-season that saw him get back to basics and make some changes. The coach of 13 years hit the recruiting trail _ hard. Eager to forget the self-described Marquette debacle, Braman found a core group of solid, hard-working runners.

"It was evident that we needed to pay more attention to recruiting the past couple of years," Braman said. "I learned a little bit. I'm a development-type of coach. I like the tough, hard-working type of kid that wants to be good. That's the type we've brought here."

That group includes freshmen Kyle Fenton, Cornelius Hill, Russ Gerbers and Matt Johnson. They are expected to contribute Saturday, as are returnees Jeremy Arndt and Matt Whaley. A junior, Arndt placed 15th at the conference meet last year.

Braman also brought assistant coach Kelly McDonnell in to focus on the women's squad. The move has both buoyed the women's program and given Braman more time to develop the men's team.

The up-close and personal attention seems to have worked. The men have enjoyed solid outings this season, including second-place team finishes at North Carolina State, Furman and Auburn.

Ranked third in the Southeast region behind Alabama and Georgia Tech, a good showing this weekend could go a long way toward the men getting invited to the NCAA meet, which includes the top two in each region.

But the Bulls face tough competition from Cincinnati, whose men have never lost in C-USA meets. The Bearcats' first-, third- and fifth-place finishers from that chilly day at Marquette a year ago are back, and the Bearcats appear to be formidable.

"That's what makes it exciting," said Braman. "They want to do well and we want to do well. We've put in the time all year to be better and now it's time to show it in the races."

Off-season preparation was the theme for the women's squad as well. After being hired in January, McDonnell found a terribly conditioned, underachieving women's squad, but she had a plan. After a summer of constant training, a positive mindset and the luck that goes along with having few injuries, the women's team has performed well.

With returnees Adrea Dempsey and Penny Skaggs and walk-on senior Amelia Griffith, the Bulls have placed high most of the season, including second at then ninth-ranked North Carolina State.

But USF's best moment came Oct. 4. As No. 1 runner Minna Rasimus recovered from various nagging injuries, the women's squad dominated the meet at Auburn, winning by 85 points.

"That was a great test for us," McDonnell said. "With that scenario, it could have gone one way or the other. But they believe in themselves."

That will come in handy as the women face a Marquette squad ranked 23rd. The USF women, ranked third in the Southeast region, also must deal with a strong UNC Charlotte team.