OGDEN -- The Wildcats are ready to run.
The Weber State cross country teams will begin action for the 2013 season today when the 'Cats compete at the Utah Open at Murray Park.
It will be the first of four regular-season meets for the Wildcats.
The Utah Open will include teams from the University of Utah, BYU and Boise State. The men's 6K race will begin at 3 p.m., with the women's 5K race starting at 3:30 p.m.
The WSU women's team is coming off a dominating season in 2012 where they repeated as conference champions and also won the NCAA Mountain Region title. WSU also finished 17th at the NCAA championships.
Under the direction of coach Paul Pilkington, the Wildcats will be led by senior Amber Henry who has won the Big Sky title in each of the past two seasons and earned All-America honors last year.
The Wildcats are ranked 24th in the nation in the preseason polls and were picked to won the Big Sky title. Henry returns for her senior season but will not run in Friday's meet with a knee injury. The Wildcats did lose three seniors off last year's team but has several other athletes returning. Kelsey Braithwaite and Jamie Stokes both return off last year's team. In addition new freshmen Ellie Child, Summer Harper and Hailey Ricks are also expected to contribute.
"This week we will give some other athletes an opportunity to run in a meet and won't run our full team," Pilkington said. "Obviously Amber will be our leader and we have others that contributed last year that will be back. We also expect a few of our new freshmen to contribute and be in our top seven."
On the men's side, the Wildcats finished second in the Big Sky championships last year. The biggest change this season will be Mike Hardy who will sit out the season as a redshirt. Hardy earned all-conference honors by finishing eighth overall in the conference meet last year.
"We decided to redshirt Mike this season and bring him back next year for his senior season," Pilkington said. "It means our team won't be quite as strong as we were last year but we do have some returners from last year and also expect to rely on a couple of freshman to contribute for us."
The top returners for the Wildcats are Trevor Ricks, Tip Worob and Tyler Robinson. Worob finished 15th overall in the conference meet last year and Ricks was 17th. Brett Lechtenberg also returns as the lone senior on the team.
The Wildcats have added several freshmen to the team, including Nick Allen and Preston Johnson.
After this week's opening meet, the Wildcats will next compete at the BYU Invitational on Sept. 14 in Provo. WSU will also compete at national meets in Minnesota and Wisconsin before the Big Sky championships Nov. 2 in Bozeman, Mont.
Weber State is hosting the 2013 NCAA Mountain Region Championships Nov. 15 at Schneiter's Riverside Golf Course.