When looking for an athlete to present as the face of a program, it’s best practice to find the best you’ve got. At the University of Mary, that would be senior Lexi Zeis of Bismarck.
Zeis was the logical choice to address the crowd on Media Day on Thursday. The two-time national champion and eighth-time All-American runner said her time at U-Mary has flown by.
Zeis and the Marauders begin her final season Sept. 8. Other fall sports are gearing up for openers as well: women’s volleyball Sept. 1; men’s soccer Aug, 31; and women’s soccer Sept. 3.
Zeis, the 2015 NCAA II national cross-country champion and 2016 runner-up, is the reigning region champion and a big reason U-Mary is the overwhelming favorite to defend its Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference championship.
“It’s already been four years,” Zeis said. “This is my last year, this is the time I have to give it my all.”
Zeis is an eight-time All-American – including track and field – and the NSIC preseason co-Athlete of the Year. U-Mary returns six of its top seven runners. That includes all-NSIC selections Kate Fox (soph.), Kaycie Stewart (sr.) and Jaiden Schuette (jr.)
Senior Rebekkah Bond and junior Emma Hafdahl also ran on the Marauders’ national team.
The men’s team features six of the seven players that helped place third in the NSIC and 10th in the region.
“We’ve been together five days so we don’t really know a lot about each other,” coach Dennis Newell said. “That’s kind of what we’re doing, growing as a team and seeing who we are.”
What he does know is that junior Derek Myers led the Marauders in each of the last four meets of last season.
Other key returnees include senior former all-region Kevin Carpenter, senior Tyler Erickson, junior Teegan Olson and sophomores Creighton Barrett and Harrison Bentzel.
Coach Thais Franca hopes to put the struggles of last season (9-20 overall, 4-16 NSIC) behind them.
“We’ll have 19 plyers this year. Last year we only had 15 and we had some problems with injuries,” Franca said. “We have player from everywhere and that diversity has changed us a lot. I’m just so amazed to see the quality of the game.”
Outside hitter Lauren Randall is one of four seniors on the team. She is one of two returning starters, the other being outside hitter Freddie Campbell.
Randall was second in the NSIC last season in kills per set (4.42) and points per set (4.96). She had 31 kills against St. Cloud State, which is U-Mary's most in the NCAA Era (beginning 2006). Randall enters the season with 933 kills.
Campbell was third in kills with 1.94/set. Her .220 attack percentage was one of the top marks on the team.
Other key seniors include setter middle hitter Katelyn Olson and Rachell Vargas-Comme.
Freshman outside hitter Natalia Cruz represented Puerto Rico at the FIVB U-17 World Championships.
The Marauders begin play for the second season as an independent, a choice that gives head coach Dave Cook more scheduling flexibility.
Last season, that didn’t lead to any more wins as the Marauders finished 6-10 and lost their last five.
Sophomore midfielder Mitch Carter is the top returning scorer with three goals and an assist.
Cook said the way his team responded to an early goal in a scrimmage game is indicative of the pride his team will play with.
Cook’s roster includes just one senior, that defender Jordan Kubisch, who started 12 of 16 matches last season. It also has players from Sweden, Northern Ireland, Haiti, Spain, Brazil, India and Australia, plus seven players from Bismarck.
Junior goalkeeper Ludvig Rhodin started all 16 matches and played every minute in goal. He had 75 saves and three shutouts.
Coach Sarah Cook hopes her fourth Marauder team can turn things around after a 4-10-3 mark that included a 4-9-2 mark in the NSIC.
“This is a new and exciting (year),” Cook said. “A lot of freshness and new vibe in the air.”
Senior defender Elizabeth Patterson and junior forward Caylin Cathey have been named NSIC defensive and offensive players to watch this season.
Patterson started nine of her 11 games last season and scored one goal. Cathey plyed in 17 games, scoring two goals and an assist.
Junior midfielder Caitlin Dooley and junior defender Lisa Swärdh return, as does sophomore defender Tiffany Ohlhauser, who started every game she played as a freshman.