The East Central University men’s cross country team has been ranked second in the Central Region of the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association preseason poll, it was announced Monday in New Orleans, La.

Coach Steve Sawyer’s Tigers are coming off a 2011 Great American Conference championship finish, second-place effort at the South Central Regional and No. 11 finish at the NCAA Division II National Championships.

ECU, along with the other  GAC institutions, have been moved from the South Central Region to the Central Region for this year.

Augustana (S.D.) is ranked first in the region, followed by ECU, Central Missouri, Minnesota State, Missouri Southern, Northwest Missouri State, Pittsburg State (Kan.), Harding, Southwest Baptist (Mo.) and Minnesota Duluth.

The Tigers welcome back two of their top five runners from last season in junior Cale Eidson and senior Austin Christian. Eidson finished fifth in the GAC Championships and 23rd at regionals last fall while Christian was eighth in the conference meet and 32nd at the regional meet. Both earned all-conference accolades

ECU will also rely on newcomer Viktors Slesarenoks, who set an amateur national record in the half-marathon in his native Latvia.

The Tigers will open the season in the Midwestern State University Meet on Thursday in Wichita Falls, Texas. ECU will host its annual Tiger Chase on Sept. 8 at PTC.

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