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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Cross Country

Women’s cross country looking ahead after Harvey

Cougar cross country continued to train during Hurricane Harvey in preparation for their season opener this weekend. | Courtesy of Steve Magness

Cross country opens their season Friday at the Norry Hersey Rice Invitational, a week after their original opening meet at HBU was canceled due to Hurricane Harvey.

Yet despite the weather, the runners continued to train, sometimes by finding higher ground or even making endless loops in the parking garage.

“We have athletes who’ve been putting in up to 90 miles per week in the heat and humidity of Texas,” Magness said. “I’ve seen them out in the parks and gotten good reports back. This group trains hard.”

Getting as much training time in as possible was important for the whole team but especially for the women. After losing their top two runners from last season, it remains to be seen how they will fare this year.

Filling a void

Last year, the women only managed a 9th place finish out of 11 at the American Athletic Conference championship meet. Now the Cougars are without their top two runners from the last two seasons, 2017 graduates Selena Sierra and Maddie Brown, and will rely heavily on a younger and somewhat untested group of athletes.

“Obviously, that’s a little scary,” redshirt sophomore Meredith Sorensen said. “I think it’s really motivating to the younger girls. We have a lot of girls from my year that are looking to step up and fill those empty spaces.”

Sorensen is one of a pair of athletes who did not compete this past season due to stress fractures.

As a freshman, Sorensen was one of several promising athletes who were in shape after putting in several miles of work per week —fifty miles a week prior to her injury, she said. But after suffering an injury in cross country and another in track & field, she has worked her way back into competitive fitness.

Head coach Steve Magness has worked to tweak each athlete’s workout to her benefit. Sorensen said Magness takes how the runners react to each workout and changes what he thinks they need from there.

“The team has proved to be extremely resilient,” head coach Steve Magness said. “Like many around the city, we had athletes or their families lose homes and suffer extreme flooding damage. I’ve been extremely proud of how our group has rallied together to help teammates and others in need.”

The next step

For the Cougars to improve on their conference finish, they will need to be on par with the top teams in conference. The women have the numbers to do so, but it all comes down to whether the athletes who have found some success in track & field can transition into cross country.

Senior Jennifer Dunlap and junior Jahnavi Schneider are two such women.

Dunlap primarily ran the 800m and 1500m during the track season, and she was typically the top performer for the women in both events. The highlight of her season came when she helped the women place third in the Distance Medley Relay at the Indoor AAC championships.

Dunlap’s consistency earned her a spot on the USA Team roster at the 29th Summer Universiade in Taipei.

A new opportunity

This will be Schneider’s first official season competing on the cross country team. Just like Sorensen, Schneider suffered stress fractures the last two seasons that kept her from competing.

Schneider hopes that running in a more long-distance run and cutting her time to sub-17 minutes have better prepared her for the season than she has been in the past.

“Even if I’m not able to help out the team as much as I might want to, I hope to be a kind of conscience, (someone) to motivate the team and give them a little bit more hope for the season,” Schneider said.

Magness has already told the women to set personal and team goals for this season. All they have left to do is get the work done. And after having to wait an extra week thanks to the Hurricane, the team will be ready to run Friday.

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