Cross country takes conference, eyes bigger prize

Members of he Missouri Southern mens cross country team explode from the starting line en route to a conference title last weekend

Members of he Missouri Southern men’s cross country team explode from the starting line en route to a conference title last weekend

After winning its 7th MIAA conference championship two weeks ago, the Missouri Southern men’s cross country team is looking ahead to regionals.

The team, which set three goals for the season, has “one down and two more to go,” said men’s cross country coach Tom Rutledge.

“We still want to place in the top three at regionals and the top eight in the nation,” he said.

The men’s team currently ranks second in the regional polls and 16th nationally.

Regionals, held at Southern this year, will take place tomorrow. The men’s teams will be running at 10:30 a.m.

“Even though it’s our own course, nothing is a shoe-in,” Rutledge said.

Schools such as Pittsburg State, Dallas Baptist, East Central Oklahoma, and nationally ranked No. 1 Abilene Christian will be running against 20 other teams vying for the regional championship.

Junior Dustin Dixon placed 1st overall in the conference meet with a time of 26:07 in the 8k course. Senior Dustin Miller followed him, finishing 2nd.

“The conference meet went well for us and we proved we are the best team in the conference,” said Miller. “But, we are not satisfied. We can run much better.”

Sophomores Brennan Benkert, Isaac Garcia and senior Ryan Arthur finished 10th, 11th, and 16th. Dixon, Miller, and Benkert earned All-MIAA honors for their top-10 finishes.

“We may have won conference, but that doesn’t guarantee us a trip to nationals, Benkert said. “We still have a job and we are going for it with everything we have.”

The women’s cross country team beat Pittsburg State to win its second straight MIAA Conference championship.

Sophomore Kimi Shank finished the 6k course with a time of 22:42 placing second overall. She was followed by sophomores Ashley Bunch (5th), Kara Eckard (7th) and Courtney Waltbillig (10th). All four earned All-MIAA honors with their top-10 finishes.

“Winning Conference was awesome,” Shank said. “Hopefully, we can start a tradition now that we have two MIAA wins in a row.”

The women are ranked 1st in the region and ninth nationally. As a team, they must place in the top two at regionals in order to qualify for nationals, and start the new tradition.

“This group has spent weeks training for this meet. Everything is at stake,” said women’s head coach Patty Vavra. “They are the group that is capable of starting the tradition of making trips to nationals.”

The women’s teams will run at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

“The team’s biggest competition will be “within ourselves,” Bunch said. “We can do anything if we get together as a team.”

Last year, the team placed fourth at regionals after winning the conference title.

“We were beaten by two teams who didn’t beat us in conference,” Vavra said. “That gave us a little additional incentive to do better this year.

“Our destiny is in our own hands. We control the race.”

Students are encouraged to attend and cheer on Southern. There is a $5 admission for the meet.

“If we don’t advance here there are no nationals,” Rutledge said. “I don’t want to host nationals for someone else.”