A day of personal bests and improvements rounded out a season of constant uphill climbs for the women’s and men’s cross country teams as they competed in the 22-team NCAA Division 1-A South Central Regional Championship meet in Waco.Although injuries to juniors Cassie Hostick and Halie Bullin put a damper on the season, the women’s team was able to move on and perform during the regional competition Saturday, said head coach Eric Heins.
Sophomore Ashley Young said the team put together a better season than last year.
“Overall, we performed much better as a team this year,” Young said.
Heins said the goal for the women’s team was to end the season on a high note.
Leading the women’s team through the rolling hills of the Cottonwood Creek Golf Course was senior Calandra Stewart, who just missed automatically qualifying for the NCAA National Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
“Going against the wind was tough uphill,” Stewart said. “The wind pushed more going downhill and gave a bit of an advantage.”
Stewart stayed among the top-10 runners throughout the entire meet despite going against a field of 108 competitors. During the final 50 meters of the race, Stewart was overtaken by Jodi Hulett from UT-Arlington and Miranda Walker of Arkansas.
Stewart crossed the finish line in ninth place (10th overall, but one runner was from a school with less than five runners) with a time of 20 minutes 54.8 seconds for the 6K race. The event was won by Rachael Forish from SMU.
“This year went better than last year,” Stewart said.
Her placement in the race put Stewart one place shy of an automatic entry to the nationals.
The women’s team finished in eighth place overall with UT edging them out by just one point.
“I felt we did a good job of following coach’s race plan,” said freshman Carlene Mayfield. “We raced well inside ourselves.”
The men’s race followed a new format with a 10K course as compared to the traditional 8K run used during conference competition.
Freshman Festus Kigen and junior Matt Manly led the Frogs through the course to a ninth-place team finish.
Kigen came out of the gate hard while staying with a clump of Arkansas and UT runners. After the group began to spread, Kigen began to follow his race plan.
“Coach told me to start around 30th place and push my way up,” Kigen said.
Kigen finished in 23rd place out of 123 runners with a time of 31:20.
Manly elevated his performance by setting a new personal record in the 10K with a time of 31:47.5 and finished in 32nd place (34th overall, but two runners were from schools with less than five runners).
“I followed it (the race plan) to a certain degree, but I went well above it,” Manly said.
Heins said Manly ran a smart race after being in the 110th place at the 1K mark.
“We did exactly what we talked about for the race,” Heins said.
With the season at a close for the teams, both the men’s and women’s teams can begin to prepare for next fall.