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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Cross Country

Cross country aims for top two finish at Rice


Senior Selena Sierra looks to end her career on a positive note after sitting out last season. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

The cross country season started last weekend for the Cougars when they traveled to Nacogdoches to compete in the Stephen F. Austin Invitational.

There, the men and women managed a fourth and second-place finishes respectively. Fresh off Labor Day, they are preparing to compete at the 41st Rice Invitational on Friday.

The Cougars know that more teams will compete this weekend and the races will be more competitive than last week at SFA. With increased competition, cross country believes they have to step their game up if they hope to improve on their performance from last week.

“We wanted to go out there and set a mark for ourselves,” Sophomore G.J. Reyna said. “The guys that are running attached are trying to up our performance from SFA, and this meet’s going to be (much) bigger than SFA. We just want to finish stronger and try to stay together longer throughout the race.”

Reyna was the top placer for the men last weekend with his ninth-place finish.

The team ran without their star runner, senior Brian Barraza, and they will run without him again at Rice. Cross country is at a disadvantage due to three athletes running unattached to see whether they will redshirt this season.

The team is expecting great runs from both freshman Nicholas Hamilton and transfer runner Chris Wallace, provided that both will end up not redshirting.

Head coach Steve Magness has made it clear that he wants to see more pack running from both teams. A focus on that will bring success for both squads.

Magness went the extra mile this summer by setting his attention on athlete morale.

“He said to keep our focus and just to stay positive,” Senior Maddie Brown said. “It’s really easy during the summer to not do your training and get off track because you don’t have someone keeping watch on you every day. He sent out emails with articles during the summer to keep us motivated and make sure we were getting our work done.”

Brown was their top placer at every meet last season.

Now that senior Selena Sierra has returned to the squad after redshirting last year, the women are confident they will place high at every competition. Sierra was the team’s top performer two years ago.

With her second-place finish at SFA, Sierra appears to be finishing her career on a high note.

“Selena is one of our top runners, she’s going to do really well,” Brown said. “I know that she’s going to help bring the team up placing wise. She brings a great energy to the team, so her coming back will help them out a lot.”

Magness is holding both the men and women accountable for a top-two finish at every meet this season, which the women have already accomplished at SFA.

This will be a defining season for cross country and one that will prove whether they are a one-man team. Without the Barraza’s services, it will be interesting to see if both sides can place high and finish in the times that Magness knows they are capable of.

Regardless, the Rice Invitational should be a great litmus test for how the rest of the Cougars season will play out.

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