Special Contributor: Don Garrett
Unlike the men’s predictions, where I did not vary from the LSC Preseason poll a single time, the women’s predictions will be considerably different. One thing will not change, a new champion was crowned in 2008 and Midwestern is actually much stronger this year. I don’t see any team coming close to mounting a challenge to the Mustangs. The long-time champs, ACU, did not have a good team in 2008 and they will have a much WORSE team in 2009! Hard to believe from a school that has had one of the top XC programs in the nation for years. More about them later.
Midwestern – 1st in 2008; Preseason poll – 1st; my pick – 1st. 15th at the national meet.
The Mustangs return 6 of their top 7 runners, including 5 that were in the top 20: Katie Stepp (4th), Lindsey Pate (7th), Kayla Hendrix (10th), Andrea Borgmann (17th), Brittany Barrington (20th). They would probably win the conference meet again even if they did not recruit a single kid!
However, they HAVE recruited and did very well. Midwestern will have 6 new runners and frankly, if the new recruits ran as a separate team, I think they could place in the top 4 at conference all by themselves! Two are transfers – Sydnee Cole, from Butler County (8th in the JC steeplechase on the track and 23rd at the JC national XC meet) and Bailey Dulaney, from Keller HS and Southern Arkansas (42nd in the Gulf South Conference, which is very tough XC conference).
Midwestern also picked up 4 HS recruits, including Cynthia Carrillo, from Decatur (2nd 3A XC meet and 3rd 3A 1600 on the track); Heather Owens, from Hawkins (23rd in the A XC meet) and Clara Poston, from Flower Mound (5th in the super-tough District 6-5A XC, a district that includes Flower Mound Marcus and Southlake Carroll).
There is a very good chance that this year Midwestern puts all 5 of its top runners in the top 10 at the conference meet (they had three last year) and Katie Stepp is a legit contender to win the whole race. Their young coach, Koby Styles, a former All-America runner for ECU, has emerged as one of the best young distance coaches in this region.
West Texas A&M – 2nd in 2008; Preseason poll – 2nd; my pick – 2nd.
WT brings back 5 of their top 6 runners from 2008, including Jennifer Cherono (3rd) and Kristi Hartsfield (11th). I have to think that Cherono will be the early favorite to win the whole thing in 2009. WT also has 2 other solid returnees – Allie Reyna (24th) and Becca Rapstine (28th). However, WT did sustain one big loss – Belinda Castonon (18th), who ran #3 for WT most of last season.
The Buffaloes had a strong recruiting year to try and fill the gap left by Castonon’s loss, with 4 high school recruits that all have a chance to contribute in the next year or two. The top people among the new freshmen are Aries Bazaldua, from Canyon (2nd in the 3A 3200 on the track in 2008 – before Canyon moved up to 4A in 2009); Nicole Hudgens, from Kaufman (4th in the 3A XC last fall) and Jessica Blakeley, from Hereford (19th in the 4A XC meet). The other freshman prospect probably makes more of an impact on the track – Brieann Garcia, from Canyon, who won the District 3-4A 800 this past spring.
Central Oklahoma – 4th in 2008; LSC Preseason poll – 5th; my pick – 3rd
UCO came to the meet last year with only 5 girls, the bare minimum a team can have and still count the sport for NCAA purposes. This year, 4 of those women are back, - Alina Istrate (6th place and a transfer from Oklahoma State in 2008), Evelyn Berko (8th), Heather Braley (30th) and Julia Crocker (40th). The only loss was Kayleigh Key (29th). Istrate and Berko are legit contenders for the LSC crown.
Then, the Bronchos went out and signed 5 high schoolers, all of whom could help this team in the next year or two. The standouts in the recruiting class include: Angel Vick, from Broken Arrow (5th in the OK 6A 1600 on the track); Cara Cox, of Yukon (7th in the OK 3200 on the track) and Iasha Keller, from Westmoore HS (10th in the OK 6A XC meet a year ago). This team is undoubtedly better than the 5th place pick they were saddled with in the preseason poll.
East Central – 3rd in 2008; LSC Preseason Poll – 4th; my pick – 4th
ECU should be fighting tooth and nail with in-state rival UCO for 3rd place at conference. They return 5 of their top 6, led by Sarah Reihart (13th) and Silvia Barkechir (14th). Other key returnees are Alex Kirkpatrick (22nd) and Jessica Nguyen (30th). The Tigers did lose their #3 runner from 2008, Nancy Sandoval (15th) and her loss may keep them from moving into 3rd.
However, the Bronchos also had a good recruiting year, going after high school kids and picking up 4 new ones. Standouts from this group include Miranda Claxton, from right there in Ada (19th in the OK 4A XC and 5th in the OK 4A 1600 on the track) and Hayley Jennings, from Broken Arrow (7th in the OK 6A 3200 in 2009.) This is a good team that will only get better in the next few years.
Angelo State – 6th in 2008, LSC preseason poll – 6th; my pick – 5th
The Rambelles have 4 of their top 6 from last year on the2009 roster, led by Paige Massengill (9th), Brittney Heath (19th) and Alyssa Priest (27th). However, they did lose their #3 runner from conference, Patricia Dailey (25th). Their #5 runner in 2008 was heptathlete Andria Nussey. I would guess that Angelo would prefer NOT to have to use her in XC, if they can groom some of their young kids to fill that gap.
While the Rambelles did pick up 4 new HS kids, I just don’t see quite the same level of quality I see in the recruiting classes for Midwestern, WT, UCO and East Central. Two that would seem to have some potential are Jessica Boudreau, from Forney (38th in the 4A XC) and Emiline Crutcher, from tiny Wellman-Union HS, who was 3rd on the track in both the Region I-A 1600 and 3200.
Southwestern Oklahoma – 7th in 2008, LSC Preseason Poll – 8th, my pick – 6th.
SWO lost a very good lead runner in Stephanie Jones (5th) and they only return their number 2 runner – Patty Murphy (26th) and their #4 runner – Melissa Banks (34th). The Bulldogs only brought 5 runners to the conference meet in 2008 and three of those are not with the program this year.
However, SWO brought in 5 new high school recruits and they are quality kids, including one of the better Texas HS kids, Chelsey Dillon from Mabank, who placed 7th in the 3A state XC meet in 2007 and then placed 13th in the 4A meet in 2008 after Mabank moved up in classification. The Bulldogs also picked up one of the top OK HS distance runners, Sarah Hix of Tahlequah, who won the OK 5A 3200 on the track, as well as Kelsey Orange, of Buffalo (2nd in the OK 2A 800 on the track). This good young talent could keep SWO in the hunt.
ACU – 5th in 2008, LSC Preseason Poll – 3rd, my pick – 7th
Okay, I know you all have been wondering - “where is ACU?” As a long-time Wildcat fan, it pains me, but I must put them in the bottom half of the field for this year. I don’t know what the LSC coaches were smoking, but there is no way ACU finishes 3rd this year.
Start out with the losses from 2008 – ACU loses the top 2 finishers in the conference meet – Winrose Karunde (2-time champ who has transferred to Texas Tech, where she will run with her sister, Carolyn, who has transferred to Tech from Wayland) and Loice Cheboir (2nd) who finished her eligibility. The Wildcats suffered last year from a huge dropoff from their #2 to #3 – Hayley Garner, who finished 30th in 2008, but 8th in 2007. Garner is graduated. ACU also does not have their #4 and #5 runners returning from 2008. Only Lindsey Putman (50th) is returning. She was injured in 2008 and she will improve, but not nearly enough to make the ‘Cats competitive.
ACU has picked up one international, Chloe Susset, the steeplechaser from France, who won the French Junior steeple just last month. I think they tried to get in a few other international athletes, but were unable to do so. The other additions are all walkon types – Shayla Herndon, from Troy, TX (3rd in the Reg II-2A 800, but not a XC runner), Kaily Timmons, from Llano (2nd in the District 8-3A 1600), and Caitlin Hanisco, from Germantown, TN (9th in the Shelby County Schools 800).
Tarleton State – 8th in 2008, Preseason poll – 7th, my pick 8th
I just don’t see the Texans getting any better this year. They lost their #1 (Kymberlee Trnka – 12th place), #2 (Krista Morris – 16th) , #4 and #5 runners. They return their #3 runner – Sheila Bishop, who finished in 36th and Katherine Grillo (40th). They will also have Morgan Kuykendall, who at one time was one of the top HS distance runners in Texas and a UT distance runner. However, Morgan suffered from probably the worst case of burnout I have ever seen in a HS kid of that caliber during her year at UT and since coming to Tarleton, she has contributed mostly on the track.
The Texans did not have a very active recruiting year either, picking up 3 high school kids, with the best of the lot being Kendall Trnka, younger sister of the departed Kymberlee. However, Kendall only placed 52nd in the Region III-3A regional XC meet and she is the best of the recruits. Tarleton could actually fall further than 8th.
Eastern New Mexico – 9th in 2008; LSC Preseason poll – 10th; my pick 9th.
The Zias return 6 of their top 7 kids from 2008, but the highest any of them placed in 2008 was the 42nd place of Jerri Martin. The 6 returnees will need to improve considerably for ENMU to even move into the top half of the LSC standings.
ENMU picked up 2 JC kids who should move into the Zias top 5 immediately – Cristal Chuca from Fabens and El Paso CC, who placed 55th in the JC national XC meet and Samantha Dryer, from Modesto JC, who placed 3rd in the California Big 8 JC track meet in the 800, but did not run much XC at Modesto.
TAMU-Commerce -10th in 2008, Preseason poll – 9th, my pick 10th.
The Lions return their #1 runner, Kate Donovan (23rd), and their #2 runner, Gabrielle Green (59th.) No way TAMU-C can compete with that kind of talent gap separating their top 2 runners. Commerce also lost their #3 and #4 runners from 2008.
Recruiting was not good to the Lions, with one kid (Emily Gibson, from North Mesquite) finishing 122nd in the Region II-5A XC meet; another kid not even running track in HS (Maci Bradford from Greenville, who played soccer) and the other 2 recruits I could not find a single bit of information on. It looks like it will be Kate Donovan and then 4 kids down toward the bottom of the pack again.
TAMU-Kingsville – 11th in 2008, Preseason poll – 11th; my pick – 11th
The Javelinas return their #1 runner, Jessica Martinez, who was 44th last year, and Erica Rodriguez, who was 70th in a field of 74 runners. Of the four recruits, only one has any HS credentials – Regina Carvajal, from Taft, who won the District 30-2A 3200 race on the track and who finished 44th in the Region IV-2A XC meet last fall. And, that is the best signee! I could not find any times for any of the other three kids.
Second year TAMU-K Coach Dall has a long way to go to make the Javelinas even conference competitive again.
Southeastern Oklahoma – 12th in 2008, Preseason poll – 12th, my pick – 12th.
Sadly, what may be the worst D-II cross country team in the country resides in the LSC. They return 3 girls, but the best one – Andy Richardson, finished 57th in a field of 74. They other returnees finished 64th and 74th.
They have one recruit, who actually has a little potential and will probably run #1 for them – Shayna McCormick, from Garland Naaman Forest, who won the District 10-5A 1600 and 3200. In order to count as a NCAA sport (toward the minimum number of sports allowed for a D-II program), a cross country team must field 5 runners at the conference meet. I see that SEOSU has recruited a kid from tennis team to make the 5th runner. I certainly respect a kid who will do that for their school, but it certainly says something about how seriously SEOSU treats XC.
BONUS: Incarnate Word – 3rd in the Heartland Conference in 2008, Preseason Poll – 3rd in the Heartland
With UIW joining the LSC after this year, it is good to look at what kind of team they have this year, in preparation for 2010. The Heartland is a pretty good conference in women’s XC, with champion Dallas Baptist being national qualifiers. In 2009, UIW has their top 5 kids coming back – Maggie Callahan (11th), Alma Salinas (14th), Alma Santos (17th), Rose Caldwell (22nd) and Melissa Martinez (23rd). Only Callahan will be a senior in 2009, therefore not competing in their first year in the LSC.
UIW has been recruiting frantically to ready for their entry into the LSC and this year is particularly true with 9 new kids coming to run XC for the Cardinals. That includes 2 internationals – Joan Jaruto, from Kenya, and Marie Troufflard, from France. There are some pretty good HS talent making their way to San Antonio as well, headlined by Cinthia Adame, from San Benito (6th 5A 800 on the track), Samantha Barrientos, from San Antonio Jay (75th 5A XC meet) and Stephanie Glatt, from San Antonio Stacey (32nd A XC meet).
By 2010, this should probably be a team that comes in and challenges for a top 4 place at conference.
Midwestern runs away with the title, with WT, ECU, UCO and Angelo fighting for 2nd through 5th place. Hard to believe, but ACU will have to get some improvement from their lone returnee to even place in the top 6 at conference. ACU will tussle with SWOSU, Tarleton and ENMU for places 6th through 9th. The bottom three in the conference will not be factors in the conference for several years.
Do I expect ACU to be this dreadful for long? Probably not. I would be surprised if they don’t find one or two people by 2010 that will help turn things around.