By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
The ACU men’s and women’s cross country teams will see some of their best competition Saturday as they travel to Fayetteville, Ark., for the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival. The ACU men claimed first at the meet in 2000, defeating then-Division I national champion Arkansas for the second time that season.
Since then, the Wildcat men placed third in 2001 and second in 2002, and Saturday they will look to regain the form of three seasons ago. Competition will be in no short order, though, said head coach Jon Murray.
“It’s a great competitive race, no matter what,” Murray said.
The men’s 10-kilometer race will begin at 9:30 a.m., and the women’s 6-kilometer race will start at 10:30 a.m.
Murray said this competition will simulate and preview the postseason races.
“We’re getting some experience there, getting ready for the regional and national races,” Murray said.
One barrier to a Wildcat win might be the absence of junior Jean-Marie Ndukimana for the second meet in a row. Murray listed Ndukimana as “probably not” for Saturday’s race because of a small cyst on the back of a previously injured Achilles tendon. The team goals haven’t changed, however.
“We’ll just try to do the best we can, get those top four up there and get those fifth and sixth guys in there as fast as possible,” Murray said.
The women’s team also will compete without one of its starters.
Senior No. 2 runner Justine Nahimana has been experiencing back pain and won’t compete Saturday. The top women’s runner, sophomore Yuliya Stashkiv, likely will be one of the top finishers in the women’s race, Murray said.
“I would anticipate her being in the top 10 or 15 girls,” Murray said. “Depth-wise, this may be as good a race as we run all year. Nationals is close, but with several of the top girls teams there, she’s going to see some outstanding athletes.”