Three new coaches, 15 new runners and a move up to Div. I don’t seem like the typical building blocks of a successful season. Nonetheless, in all six competitions this fall, ACU’s Cross Country team managed to make a statement.
Cross Country is one of the legacies of Wildcat athletics, known as a dynasty with its long history of conference and even national titles at the Div. II level. The 2013 team looked to make a smooth and competitive transition to Div. I with new head coach Keith Barnier, assistant coach Drew Graham, a former All-American distance runner at Adams State and graduate assistant coach Ray Walker, who recently finished his cross country career at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio.
“Our assistant coaches have been awesome,” said freshman standout Landa Dowdy. “They are both pretty new at coaching, but they were both phenomenal runners not too long ago, so they can connect with us in a way coach Barnier can’t. And coach Barnier brings us his experience of success that the other young coaches don’t have yet, so it’s a great partnership.”
This experience of success has helped lead the Wildcats to some solid performances, including those seen last Friday at the season-ending Southland Conference Championships in Lake Charles, La. The women’s team finished seventh overall out of 14 teams, while men took tenth place; however, several individuals achieved season-best times in the meet, including senior Chloe Susset (21:29.4) in the women’s 6K and junior Daniel Block (27:06.9), a transfer from the University of Saskatchewan, in the men’s 8K. Freshman Diana García Muñoz finished No. 19 overall in the women’s 6K out of 102 runners with a time of 22:27.2.
“I think the team did great,” Susset said. “It was a great last season meet for all of us.”
Susset, a two-time Southland Conference Runner of the Week, led the women’s team all season in its impressive Div. I debut. On Sept. 7, she took the title at the McMurry/Bill Libby Invitational. A week later, she came in second place at the Texas Tech Red Raider Open in Lubbock, only five seconds behind the lead runner; a month after that, she earned another first place spot at the Incarnate Word Cardinal Invitational in San Antonio. Last Friday, she came in fifth in the championship meet, ending her ACU cross country career on a fantastic note.
“It was a very fast race for me. Right before the race, I thought that was my last chance to be bright for ACU and be part of our historic cross country legacy,” Susset said.
While not every meet of the season was triumphant for the Wildcats, some of the highlights include the women’s second-place finishes at the McMurry/Libby Invitational and the University of Incarnate Word Invitational, as well as their third-place spot at the Red Raider Open. Men’s cross country earned fourth-place ranks at the McMurry/Libby Invitational and the UIW Invitational.
The Wildcats are only looking forward, optimistic about their progress throughout the season and the talent of the 15 freshman who have held their own in such a historically dominant program. Div. I competition has proven to be difficult to adjust to, but the challenge is readily accepted by the ‘Cats, who hope to soon restore the ACU cross country program to its former reference as a dynasty in college athletics.