By Steve Holt, Opinion Editor
The men’s cross country team will face the No. 2 team in Division I on Saturday, when the men’s and women’s teams participate in the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jam-boree in Stillwater, Okla.
In 2000, the men’s cross country team defeated the then-national champions not once, but twice. The team first ousted the Razorbacks at the Cowboy Jamboree, and then again in Arkansas at the Chile Pepper Invitational.
The Wildcats will once again get a shot at the Razorbacks, and this time the motivation might be their beating ACU at last year’s Jamboree.
If any Wildcat cross country team can pull that off, however, this one can.
No clear-cut No. 1 Wildcat runner emerged after the ACU Classic on Sept. 13, as the top five runners were separated by less than 10 seconds. Senior John Kemboi is the defending champion of the Jamboree, and 2000 Division II national champion Alfred Rugema should challenge him for this year’s title. Sophomore Bernard Manirakiza will be near the front of the pack as well, said head cross country coach Jon Murray. Murray said Manirakiza has been running as well as anyone on the team.
He added that the team needs to run tight to beat the stiff Division I competition.
“The secret to success over there is a real low gap between the first and seventh guys,” Murray said. “Alfred, John and Bernard should be right up there, and after that there are four guys to choose from. It will be whoever rises up that day.”
Other men’s teams that will be present at the Jamboree include the universities of Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as Texas Tech and Oklahoma State University. Twenty-three men’s teams are registered to participate in the Jamboree, which begins at 8:30 a.m.
The women’s goal will be to “continue working as a group to see where we are,” Murray said. Defending champion Georgetown University will be running Saturday, as well as Oklahoma State, Oklahoma University, Kansas University and Texas Tech. Lone Star Conference region rival Central Missouri will be participating, and Murray said the team will use the race to learn about its Division II rivals.
The women’s race will begin at 9:10 a.m.
Murray said the men will have to “be at the top of their game” to beat Arkansas, but that he believes in the team.
“We can beat anyone on any given day,” Murray said.