Contributor: Don L. Garrett
With the conference meet being run this Saturday (October 24), here are my predictions based on the past 7 weeks of competition. These predictions will look CONSIDERABLY different than my pre-season predictions!
WOMEN – Midwestern looks like the “hands-down” class of this field. However, there could be lots of jockeying for position from 2nd to 6th place.
Midwestern State – definitely the best team in the LSC right now, although there are not quite as strong as I first expected. That happens when your #1 returning runner decides to graduate and pass up her final season of eligibility. Still, this team is very deep and their new #1 runner, Sydnee Cole, has a legit shot at winning the individual conference title.
East Central – the next 5 teams are virtually interchangeable, but I think ECU will slip into that 2nd spot. They ran very well the last time out and they have a strong freshman, Hayley Jennings, plus a solid returnee in Sarah Reihart. Key returnee Sylvia Barkechir has only run 1 time this fall, but if she is anywhere close to 100%, ECU will sew up 2nd place.
Central Oklahoma – their top returnees, Evelyn Berko and Alina Istrate, are running well, but Istrate did not run in their last meet. If she is not running, then UCO topples to 4th-6th place. If Istrate runs and runs well, they are in the hunt for 2nd place.
Angelo State – started very poorly, but seems to be running better of late. They still have not run in any meets where they were tested. Returnees Brittney Heath and Paige Massengill are running better after poor starts and freshman Emeline Crutcher, from tiny Wellman-Union HS seems to be a real find.
Eastern New Mexico – the Zias are much better than 2008, with Nicky Reid (who did not run XC in 2008) running very well and top returnee Jerri Martin also running better than 2008. Teammate Yared Gamiz has improved exponentially from 2008. ENMU could jump as high as 2nd place, but whatever place they finish at conference, it appears to be a breakthough year for them.
Southwest Oklahoma – led by freshman of the year candidate Chelsey Dillon (from Mabank, TX), SWO started off a “house afire” this year, but seems to have burned out in the last 2 weeks at the Cowboy Stampede and Chile Pepper Festival. But, running in those big meets may be just what they need to ready themselves for the conference meet.
West Texas A&M – pretty hard to be competitive when your top 3 runners from the pre-season roster are no longer on the team. Not sure what happenedm to them, but now WT finds itself dependent largely on freshmen. Aries Bazaldua is a good freshman, but she needs to running #3 or #4, not #1 in her freshman year.
ACU – ouch! Tough year for the Wildcats, they only have one person back from last year (Lindsay Putman) and she sat out last spring due to foot surgeries. One international with some promise, Chloe Susset from France, but I am not sure if she makes the top 10 this year. It may be a struggle for ACU to place 8th.
Tarleton State – has not run much this season and that makes them hard to figure out, but it looks like they simply don’t have much going for them this season. No one this year has emerged as a clear #1 and their depth does not appear to be improving as the season progresses.
Texas A&M-Commerce – they have a surprise freshman, Maci Bradford, who is running pretty well (she is a surprise because she did not run HS track), but top returnee Kate Donovan is not running particularly well and they have no depth.
Texas A&M-Kingsville – this team is better than 2008, with solid leadership from Erica Alvarado, their #1 in 2007 who did not run last year. But, there is little depth. In fact, for much of the season, they have had trouble fielding the 5 runners needed to count in team standings.
Southeastern Oklahoma – freshman Shayna McCormick (from Garland Naaman Forest HS) has run well, but there is still very little depth. However, this team is better than in 2008 and could fight with Kingsville for 11th place.
MEN – this race suddenly appears to be a coin-toss between ACU and Tarleton. The Texans embarrassed the ‘Cats at the ACU Naimado Classic 2 weeks ago and vaulted over them in the regional standings. This shapes up to be a good race!
ACU – they did not have Cleophas Tanui running at the Naimadu Classic and having Tanui in the race could make all the difference in the world. If ACU has three internationals in the race – Amos Sang, Daniel Maina (last year’s champ) and Tanui, then I think ACU wins the race. ACU also has a top candidate for freshman of the year, Colby Delbene, from upstate New York or even Spencer Lynn, from White Oak.
Tarleton State – top returnee Jared McNeil is running extremely well, plus this team is very deep and balanced. The Texans even have a freshman, Logan Mynar, from tiny Kopperl HS, who might get some attention for freshman of the year considerationi. However, I think they are still just a little bit behind the Wildcats.
Eastern New Mexico – undoubtedly, the surprise team of 2009! ENMU has jumped from conference has-been to a serious conference contender in one year. They have a HUGE team (they took 15 men to the Cowboy Stampede) and are getting veteran leadership from Richard Kogo (who placed at the conference track in 2009, but did not run at the XC conference meet in 2008) and unheralded freshmen Jacob Lozano, from Hobbs, and Patrick Lueras, from Los Lunas. Throw in El Paso CC transfer Luis Arguirre and this team has been transformed. Their top returnee, Logan Robertson, has been fighting to stay in the top 7 and he will have to make the top 7 to even get to run at the conference meet.
East Central – a very balanced team that is getting good leadership from both Jim Sutrick and Joel Dutton (a 2008 redshirt), plus strong effort from Chase McMichael, a Caddo, OK, native who transferred from NAIA Missouri Valley College. I have not seen Daniel Kiptoo run all year and if they had him they could contend for 3rd or even higher. Also, UTA transfer Armondo Saldivar has been running well, but only running unattached, so he must not have gained his eligibility yet. Too bad for ECU - he too could have made ECU a title contender.
Texas A&M-Commerce – had a breakout season in 2008, placing 3rd, but looks like they will regress this year. Returnee Tyler Tindell is running well, but it appears that Robert Reed (another top returnee) must be redshirting and they simply do not have the depth to contend for the top 3 this year.
Angelo State – good returning leadership from Brian Carroll and Shannon Cunningham and a freshman, Isac Valdez, who looks like a keeper, but the depth just hasn’t materialized for ASU. Like their women, they have not run a very tough schedule, so they may have more than I can see, but ASU has not tested with any really tough meets.
Cameron – this team mystifies me. They have a terrific new runner in Julius Korir, a transfer from NAIA Lindenwood, but their top returnee Mohamed Khelalfa, is having a terrible season. They simply have not developed any depth this year. I thought they could be this year’s sleeper, but it does not look like that will happen for them.
West Texas A&M – another team that I expected more from in 2009. Lots of young kids, but their sophomores have not taken the next step forward to make this team a contender. Freshman Joey Villareal, from Canyon, has shown some promise and maybe this team just needs one more year of serious college competition to blossom.
Texas A&M-Kingsville – getting excellent effort from top returnee Kiya Dandena, plus from their 2007 #1 Daniel Castro (who redshirted in 2008). However, lack of depth will scuttle the Javelinas effort to move out of the cellar.