Cross country stays optimistic about championships
The men and women of the Cougar cross country team are in the middle of a two-week preparation period for the American Athletic Conference Championships in Cincinnati.
Lately, everything seems to be going against the Cougars.
When both teams traveled to Alabama on Oct. 14 for their final regular season meet, they competed in their toughest competition. They also had no valuable athletes when it was time to run.
For the women’s team, redshirt senior and top performer Selena Sierra was suffering from a virus. The seasoned veteran still pushed through to finish 57th.
In addition, the women’s third-best runner sophomore Maria Gonzales ended up straining her calf and had to drop out.
On the men’s side, junior Justin Barrett strained his hamstring midway through the race and could only jog to the finish after that point.
“You hope that this all comes together during big races, but it wasn’t our day,” said head coach Steve Magness. “The positive is that we (have had) two weeks to heal and we still have room to grow. This week is a really tough week of work. We have the two hardest workouts of the year this week, so we’re hoping to build some toughness and gain some fitness heading into the final stretch.”
Magness continues to preach his message that teams are not defined by their ranking but how they bounce back. He knows the strong culture on the squads will keep them confident and ready to perform well at conference.
At the start of the season, it would have been easy to predict that these two squads might not have accomplished much. This is especially true for the men’s team considering their top two runners chose to redshirt this season.
Teams look up
With the emergence of sophomore G.J. Reyna as a leader for the men, coupled with the combination of senior runners Sierra and Maddie Brown for the women, the Cougars have had an extremely competitive season.
The three runners have helped the men and women perform at a consistently competitive level so they can again aim for a top-three spot at the conference meet.
“I think throughout the season we’ve had little glimpses of what our true potential can be from different people,” Reyna said. “I think that what we’re trying to do really is get all these things to happen on the same day. I think if we can do that we’ll do really well.”
At the championship in Cincinnati this weekend, the men’s team will compete against the University of Tulsa. The women’s team will face Southern Methodist University.
Tulsa is the defending conference champions and regularly recruits some of the best runners to keep themselves in the national picture. Meanwhile, SMU Mustangs have had a tremendous season that launched them into the national rankings.
Both the men and the women will shoot for a finisher in the third to fifth range, which will be a great achievement against some of the nation’s best squads.
‘They can accomplish anything’
On a personal level, Reyna and Sierra have set on finishing in the top 15 All-Conference at the meet to capstone their tremendous seasons.
Both runners and their coach are extremely confident that they can get the job done. The hard work and leadership skills have prepared themselves for running against the best in the conference.
An all-conference finish would be the ideal conclusion to a breakout season for Reyna and prepare him for the road ahead. Reyna said he is looking forward to next season because he expects cross country to perform better as a team.
For Sierra, who has been hoping to place all-conference since she joined the team, this will be her final chance to leave a lasting impression on the squad.
“These girls mean so much to me,” Sierra said. “I want to see them be successful. I try to break records and I try to place high because I want them to know that they’re capable of everything I’ve done. I want them to know that they can accomplish anything.”