Warriors are prepared for national meets
The Lewis-Clark State College men’s cross country team has been wearing a chip on its shoulder for about a year. The women’s program? Not so much a chip, but the Warriors still feel they have something to prove, especially after falling five spots in the final poll.
Both teams are looking for some redemption on Saturday when they take part in the NAIA National Cross Country Meet in Vancouver, Wash. The races will take place at the Fort Vancouver Historical Site with the men’s contest starting at 10:30 a.m., followed by the women’s race at 11:45 a.m.
The 8-kilometer men’s race involves 32 teams, including 22 conference/independent champions, and 102 individual qualifiers. Malone of Ohio is seeking its third straight national title, while on the women’s side, Azusa Pacific returns to defend its title. The women’s 5-kilometer race also has 32 teams, including 23 conference/independent champions, and 117 individual qualifiers.
For the Warrior men, last year’s national race at Kenosha, Wisc, is one they would just as soon forget. LCSC was shooting for a Top 10 team finish, but wound up No. 22. Several of the young runners from a year ago return and LCSC coach Mike Collins says this group has been running with something to prove all season.
“These guys are motivated. They are fired up and ready to go,” Collins said. “Last year still weighs on them and they still feel like they have something to prove. They want to beat some teams that are ranked ahead of them, but in order to do that, they have to race smart.”
Both Warrior teams ran on a slower course in claiming the Frontier Conference titles and automatic berths to nationals. Those slower times, however, dropped the Warrior men from No. 10 to No. 14 in the final poll, while the women dropped five spots to No. 16.
“We just can’t make the same mistakes we did a year ago,” Collins said. “I think we learned a lot from last year’s race.”
Although it’s a different course this year, and is more of a loop course than the hilly course in Wisconsin, Collins said there are some similarities that the Warriors must be aware of. Because there is one tight corner runners must get around early in the race, Collins said it is important to get out faster than normal to avoid getting bogged down at the corner. Last year, the Warriors didn’t get off to a great start and the course didn’t allow much room for passing.
“We have to get out faster than normal or you could wind up standing and waiting to get around that turn,” Collins said. “The course has a lot of trees as well so you may have to run through them to pass.”
The Warriors ran on the course on Thursday and because of wet conditions and all participants being allowed to run the course on Thursday and Friday, Collins said he would be surprised if the course didn’t resemble a mud bog on Saturday. He said if that’s the case, it could work to the Warriors’ advantage.
“Our kids like those conditions,” Collins said. “It will make it feel more like a cross country meet. If it’s bad like I think it will be, we will bring extra tape so that we can tape shoes to the feet so they don’t come off.”
The Warriors are back at full strength as well. Freshman Dave Marks, who was LCSC’s top runner at most events this season, was held out of the conference meet to allow a foot injury to completely heal. Even without Marks, the Warriors swept the meet with the top five finishers.
Joining Marks for LCSC is senior Eric Tuwei, juniors Sean Huey, Chris McConnell, and Jake Miller, sophomore Grant Eldridge, and freshman Josh Shrewsbury.
For the Warrior women, who are also now healthy, seniors Kyli Astle and Lindsay Szybura lead the way. They are joined by sophomores Kelsey Klettke, Madison Randall, Stephanie Shuel, and Tayler Harrington, and freshman Allie Ford. Both Shuel and Harrington have been hampered by injuries and illnesses this season, but are ready for the meet.
The Warrior women were 12th last season and Collins also believes they have a shot at placing in the top 10 as a team.
“We have to get out and establish position early and then we have to hold it,” Collins said. “But I know our team is excited. We will have plenty of fan support with families, friends and even people from the college coming so we’re pretty excited.”
The is the ninth straight year the Warrior women have qualified for the meet and the fourth straight year for the men’s team, which has sent an individual runner or a team to the meet for seven straight seasons.