Cougars to face ranked rivals
The culmination of the cross-country team’s season begins Saturday when it races in the Conference USA Championships in Memphis, Tenn., where the Cougars want to prove they are a top-tier program in C-USA.
"If you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best," head coach Ryan Turner said.
The men’s team’s biggest challenge will be keeping up with Tulsa, who is ranked No. 16 in the Division I Men’s National Cross-Country Coaches Poll. The women must deal with No. 20 Rice, which has won two of the last three women’s C-USA Championships, and No. 26 Southern Methodist, who has finished higher than Rice in two races this season.
"The conference is much deeper than it was last year. The kids are older, more talented and faster," Turner said. "I just have to remind (the runners) to be confident in their abilities and trust their training."
Every conference team will participate in Saturday’s race, with the top 15 finishers in both races automatically becoming All-Conference selections. The freshmen who finish highest overall in both races will receive Freshmen of the Year honors.
"We’re really excited to go out there and show everyone how good we are," freshman Stephanie Aldea said. "I feel like I have a job to do on Saturday, which is to be one of the top finishing freshmen. It’s definitely one of my goals."
Although the men’s team has not placed higher than fifth in 10 of the last 11 conference championships, Turner said both teams could compete for first place.
"That would be a goal we’d like to achieve," Turner said. "I think we’re a better team than we were last year, and we’re as healthy as we’ve been all year."
The UH women have won four out of five meets this season, which has given them a confident swagger.
"Our conference recognizes (our improvement), so they’re anxious to see what we can do," Aldea said.
With the season coming close to an end, runners have been making adjustments in their routines.
"We’ve been resting a lot more, and we’ve also dropped our mileage," Aldea said. "Our workouts are faster and more intense now."
The women will race on a 5,000-meter course, which features one major hill and some smaller inclines, while the men’s course is 8,000 meters and contains the same terrain.
"I think the course is wonderful," Turner said. "It’s relatively flat and should give us an opportunity to put up some of our fastest times of the season."
Saturday’s action starts with the women’s race at 10 a.m., followed by the men’s race at 11 a.m. Both races will be held at the Mike Rose Soccer Complex on the University of Memphis campus.