OXFORD, Ohio – Blending a mix of old and new, the Miami University men’s cross country team kicks off its 2013 season Saturday when the RedHawks run at the Flyer 5K Challenge, hosted by the University of Dayton. The men’s race gets underway at 10:45 a.m. at Indian Riffle Park in Kettering, Ohio, just outside of Dayton.

The meet will give Miami its first look at this year’s team, which includes several key returners, as well as a handful of newcomers who should make an immediate impact for the RedHawks. Miami finished 2012 on a strong note, placing sixth out of 30 teams at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, just missing out on an NCAA Championship berth. That followed up a third-place tie at the 2012 Mid-American Conference Championship two weeks earlier.

“I think that did carry over,” said 20th-year head coach Warren Mandrell of the momentum at the end of last season. “They’ve already talked about things like that, realistic or not. I know, particularly for the older guys, that was a really big thing for them. And I think it was a big thing for other kids on the team, even if they didn’t compete there. It showed that the team is certainly capable of doing that.”

Miami has been receiving some recognition in the preseason, as the ‘Hawks were picked to finish fourth at the 2013 MAC Championship in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll. Miami is also ranked ninth in the first USTFCCCA Great Lakes Region Poll, which is tops among all MAC schools, as Akron (11th), Eastern Michigan (13th) and Central Michigan (14th) all sit behind them.

At last year’s season-opening Flyer 5K, the RedHawks finished second, one of three meets in 2012 in which Miami was the runner-up (Commodore Classic and All-Ohio Championship), as the ‘Hawks were just edged by Ohio State by three points. The RedHawks do have history on their side, however, having won the race eight of the last 10 years, including two of the last three.

Miami will have a shot at revenge against the Buckeyes this year, as Ohio State will once again be running at the Flyer 5K. Joining OSU among the competition Saturday will be local foes Xavier, Wright State, Northern Kentucky and the host Flyers, while IUPUI, Denison, Wittenberg and Cincinnati Christian will also be running.

In order to top the Buckeyes, the RedHawks will have to replace its top two runners from a season ago in Jarrod Eick and Steve Kiplagat. Eick won the individual title at the Flyer 5K a season ago, the second straight year he claimed that accolade, while he was Miami’s second finisher in the other four races he ran, including earning All-MAC honors for a second straight year after placing eighth at the MAC Championship. Kiplagat gave the ‘Hawks a big boost in his lone year at Miami after transferring, as he was second overall at last year’s Flyer 5K and was the team’s top finisher in four other races, including taking fourth overall at the MAC Championship to garner First-Team All-MAC honors and placing 25th at the Great Lakes Region meet to grab All-Region honors.

Looking to fill the void left by Eick and Kiplagat, both on and off the course, will be redshirt senior Matt Marol and senior Dave Wing. Wing collected Second-Team All-MAC honors a season ago after finishing 10th at the MAC Championship, as Miami’s third scorer. He was the team’s top finisher at the All-Ohio Championship, while finishing behind Eick and Kiplagat in his other four races. He placed seventh overall at last year’s Flyer 5K. Marol will be counted on as a steady leader in 2013 after finishing in Miami’s top seven in all six races last year, including 21st overall at Dayton and 30th at the MAC meet.

“They’re our only two seniors and they’ve been leading the workouts and non-workouts,” Mandrell said. “They’ve done a nice job with that.”

Behind the two seniors is a mix of freshmen and returners who will factor into Miami’s top seven. Sophomore Zack McBride, who was Miami’s fifth scorer at last year’s Flyer 5K, struggled down the stretch last season but has shown vast improvement early on this fall and has “really stepped up” according to Mandrell. Freshmen Stephen Biebelhausen and Kent Ford have also been consistently in the top five in the RedHawks’ preseason workouts and will be counted on to help fill the hole left by Eick and Kiplagat.

“Both of them have looked very good and both had really good years last year in high school both in the fall and springtime,” Mandrell said of the two newcomers. “They’ve made an impact so far.”

Ford will be one of three RedHawks held out of the Flyer 5K for precautionary reasons, however, but he is expected to contribute as the season progresses. Miami’s other two scratches for Dayton are redshirt junior Daniel Garleb and sophomore Joe Stewart, both of whom will be counted on to score for the ‘Hawks later on during the season. Garleb finished in Miami’s scoring five in five of six races last year, including 25th overall at the MAC Championship, while Stewart was named the Ohio Freshman Cross Country Runner of the Year, scoring in all five races he ran as a rookie, coming in just one place behind Garleb at the MAC meet.

“Stewart’s recovering from an illness in the spring. He also worked out hard this summer and sort of hurt himself, but lately he’s been running pretty much normal. We’ll have him back for the main part of the season,” Mandrell said. “Garleb was a key scorer last year, but he hasn’t been feeling well. We’re resting him Saturday at Dayton, but he’s been in the top six in our original workouts. We just want to make sure he gets his legs back.”

Two other RedHawks who will factor into Miami’s top seven in 2013 are Joe’s twin brother, Matt Stewart, and redshirt sophomore Ryan Moncrieff. Matt Stewart has been running with the front of the pack in practice this year and looks to improve on his rookie season, which included being Miami’s seventh finisher at the Flyer 5K Challenge. Moncrieff redshirted last year after suffering from an injury that limited him to one open race in 2012. As a freshman, however, he was in Miami’s scoring five four times, including taking 15th overall at the Flyer 5K.

“Those nine right now have either shown they’re the ones that are looking good in hard workouts and then Dan (Garleb) and Joe (Stewart) certainly have tremendous potential to move up.”

Following the Flyer 5K Challenge, Miami will host its own Miami Invitational, which resumes after a one-year hiatus, on Saturday, Sept. 7. The meet will serve as the grand opening for Miami’s new cross country course on Bonham Road just past Yager Stadium. Both men’s and women’s alumni will also return to take part in a special alumni race, while the men will run another 5K race at the meet.

“I think it should be fun. We’ve had a decent response for alums coming back. Some of them that I haven’t seen in a while that were here my first year,” Mandrell said. “And having the course, and being able to practice on it, as we will all year, that has been very nice. Last year we lost our course and we didn’t really have anything. Now it’s nice to have a dedicated facility for the team. It’s also nice for recruiting, as we were able to drive the kids out and tell them it’s their course.”

Miami will also travel to meets in Kentucky and Indiana during the season, before heading to the MAC Championship on Nov. 2 in Bowling Green, Ohio. Eastern Michigan is the three-time defending champion at the meet while Central Michigan was runner-up last year with Akron tying the ‘Hawks for third.

“I think it’s probably the usual suspects. Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan, they’re always good teams. They bring back decent groups. Akron had a solid year last year and they’ll be in there again. We should be in there again hopefully. Kent was off a little last year, but historically they’ve had a good team. The group you see at the front last year will be the same group you see this year,” Mandrell said, handicapping the MAC Championship. “And for us, the key is going to be what the young guys can do stepping in. They’re certainly talented enough; it’s just whether they’ve matured enough yet to bang heads at the front.”

The RedHawks then potentially conclude the season at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Nov. 15 in Madison, Wis., where they’ll once again attempt to qualify for the NCAA Championship and is the same place they fell one spot short a season ago.