The Cross Country season begins this Friday, and both teams are in good shape to improve greatly upon last season’s ninth place finish.
On the men’s side, runners look to get off to a hot start despite losing two seniors from last year in Reid Rivers and Sterlen Paul. Sophomore Drew Cummings, who emerged as one of the Wildcat’s top runners last season at the Southland Conference Championships, said there’s no limit to what the men’s team can do this year.
“We’re a lot stronger than we were last year,” Cummings said, “and honestly we’ve had really promising workouts with a pack of guys we’ve never really had before, and I think it shows the sky is the limit for us, who knows what we can do?”
Cross Country coach Jarvis Jelen agrees with the sentiment that the team is a lot stronger, and credits not only the returning members but the incoming freshmen.
“We have a completely different team than last year,” Jelen said, “but they look great. We lost a couple of seniors but everyone we brought back developed really well and we also brought in two really good freshmen in Roy Kipkorir from Kenya and Connor Miller. [Roy] just arrived a few days ago and should be eligible to practice soon after getting through the visa process.”
The men’s team looks good, but the big story in the Southland Conference cross country world is the return of the four redshirts from last season for the women’s team; sophomore Carnley Graham, senior Diana García Muñoz, and senior twin superstars Allie and Michaela Hackett. The Hackett sisters are two of the top runners in the nation, and the return landed them a preseason ranking of first in the Southland Conference and second in the south-central region- ahead of teams like the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Baylor, and only trailing Arkansas. Both Allie and Michaela ran unattached in events last season, finishing first and second in both the UCLA 10k and the UNT 5k.
“Definitely our first goal is to win conference,” Michaela said. “and with the preseason rankings having us second, it’s definitely humbling, but not too much of a surprise. We as a team are going to compete every day and we are very good at what we do, but it’s great to see our team get recognition from other people and see that other people know what we are capable of doing.”
Allie echoes her sister’s sentiment, and said that hopefully they can make it to nationals as a team.
“I think winning conference is obviously on everyone’s mind,” Allie said, “but our first and foremost goal is to place top-2 at regionals. That would take us as a team directly to nationals.”
The sisters also know that nothing is guaranteed this season- both expressed sentiment about the possibilities of injuries or “secret weapons” other teams could have. But coach Jelen said the team is looking poised for a nationals run.
“These girls are some of the greatest I’ve even seen,” Jelen said. “And I originally thought we were going to be ranked around fourth but after looking at our team and other teams, it’s not a stretch that these girls can go to nationals. We just have to keep people healthy and keep working hard and hopefully get that second spot and that auto-berth to nationals.”