Led by a trio of sophomores, the Purdue men’s cross country team is hoping to emerge from the bottom half of the Big Ten Conference.

“We have a great nucleus from our returning freshman,” assistant cross country coach Dave Hartman said. “We’re still young, but with each passing season I think we’ll develop into a national caliber team.”

Purdue hasn’t placed better than seventh at the Big Ten Championships since 1996, but with the return of sophomore Matt McClintock — the fastest returning harrier in the Big Ten — and the emergence of classmates Caleb Kerr and Tate Schienbein, Purdue expects to be more competitive than in years past.

Kerr, who as a true freshman finished 54th at the Big Ten Championships, said coming in with essentially a new team and growing together has given the team “added confidence.”

“Coming in last year we were a bunch of new faces, but now we know each other’s little nuances and how to race and work together,” Kerr said.

Purdue will have to account for the loss of Johnnie Guy, who a season ago qualified for the NCAA Championships before transferring to the University of Southern Indiana in January.

Having McClintock, who is in Colombia competing in the 10k at the Pan Am Junior Championships, at the top of the lineup should help ease those pains.

Hartman noted that having someone as talented and committed to running as McClintock is a coach’s dream, but said he has to make sure he isn’t over trained.

“Matt is so dedicated and driven to be an extremely successful runner that a lot of what I do with him is just make sure he’s not pushing too hard, too soon” Hartman said. “If given free reign, he might just work himself into the ground.”

Purdue is hosting two meets this season, including the Big Ten Championships on Nov. 3. The Boilermakers open the season on Aug. 30 at the Michigan Invitational at the University of Michigan.

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