The 2018 season could shape up to be a big step forward for the MSOE women's track & field as they enter the season with a new head coach and one of the deepest rosters in recent memory.
Head coach Allie Nicosia takes over the women's side of the program from Larry Gardner this season with 20 returning student-athletes as well as a slew of new faces that will look to continue an upward trend in competition for the program.
The Raiders finished fifth in both the indoor and outdoor conference championships, marking the fourth-straight season in which they improved their indoor standing. They also posted their highest outdoor point total since 2010.
Kotarak has qualified for the NCAA Championships both indoors and outdoors in each of her first two in the Red & White, qualifying in both the long and triple jumps three times. She is easily the school and league record-holder in both events and has yet to lose a league competition in the horizontal jumps.
Bilskie, meanwhile, claimed her first league championship in the 400m hurdles while setting school records in the indoor 400m and with the 4x400m relay both indoors and outdoors. In addition to being a perennial title contender in the sprint hurdle events, as well, she is also the team's lone returner in the pole vault, a discipline she added last season.
The jumps and hurdles are the two deepest areas for MSOE, with the hurdle events featuring several finals qualifiers from past league championships. Seniors Holly Denfeld and Desy Echevarria round out a formidable trio in the 400m hurdles, as Echevarria was fifth in the event last season and Denfeld has finished in the top four twice at league competitions.
In the sprint hurdles, Bilskie is typically among the top three while junior Kim Schonder gives the team yet another strong competitor.
Denfeld joins Kotarak in the jumps as a former school record holder in the triple jump. Denfeld was a league champion in the event as a freshman in 2014. Junior Bianca Trombley also competes in the triple jump, scoring in eighth place indoors, and sophomore Nikki Wiese is another returner that competes in both jumping events.
Trombley has fared better in the high jump, where she and senior Rachel Lynde each scored in the event last season with Lynde taking sixth and eighth indoor and outdoors, respectively, in her first season of collegiate competition. Sophomore Savana Black is back for her second season in a Raider uniform after competing in the event outdoors.
Junior Maia Heineck is a versatile athlete that has competed in numerous of the field events as she trained for multi-events last season, culminating in a fifth-place showing in the NACC outdoor heptathlon. She was the league's javelin champion as a freshman in 2016 and just missed a scoring place in the discus last season.
Three returners round out the traditional throwers group in sophomore Rachael Kundrot and juniors Brianne Harris and Katie Allen. Kundrot broke the school discus throw record last season and posted top-10 finishes in all three throwing events at the league meet outdoors. Harris had her best league meet indoors last season, scoring in the weight throw with a seventh-place finish and adding an 11th-place showing in the shot put. Allen competed for the first time indoors last season and will look to take a step forward with added experience this season.
A solid cross country campaign should bode well for MSOE in the middle and regular distance events, though the teams strongest event at the league level could be the 3000m steeplechase. Junior Kayla Thilges returns after a year studying abroad last season. She was the 2016 runner-up in the event. She's joined by another returner in junior Rachel Ruona, who took sixth last season in her first season competing in the event.
Junior Patty Bray leads the middle distance runners after a standout cross country campaign in the fall in which she set a school record for a 6000m race. She'll look to build on that and improve on her already top-10 performances in the 800m.
Senior Lizzy Hilby stood out for the Raiders in the 400m, taking fourth at the league outdoor championships. She competed for the first time collegiately last season after playing basketball. With her basketball eligibility completed, she should benefit from added experience this indoor season.
Senior Alex Muench and junior Samantha Booker have focused on the 800m to 1500m events and have demonstrated steady improvement through hard work in their careers. The duo ran together in the each event last season and will look to push each other closer to scoring positions within the league. Rounding out the competitors in the events are sophomores Morgan Balog and Sophomore Nancy Leon. Balog was limited in action last season but competed in the 800m, mile, and 3000m events while Leon was hampered by injury and competed in the 800m once.