Men earn sixth, Musser to go to nationals

Record-breaking temperatures and a rough course proved to be a tough combination for the men’s cross country team at the regional meet in Abilene, Texas.

Abilene Christian University and East Central Oklahoma University claimed the top team spots in the Nov. 5 race.

Southern came in sixth of 15 teams, finishing third of the MIAA schools behind Central Missouri State University and Truman State University.

“Life is tough – it’s not their fault,” said Tom Rutledge, head men’s cross country coach. “It was very hot – 88 degrees – something you can’t prepare for.”

He said it is hard to adjust when the team practices in 40-degree weather sometimes and then have to run in 80-degree weather.

“All the MIAA and northern schools had their worst races of the year,” Rutledge said. “Texas and Oklahoma schools dominated because they were more prepared for the elements.”

Sophomore Ryan Arthur said it was disappointing because they knew they could beat CMSU and TSU.

“I felt like we were trained and ready for the race,” said junior Dustin Miller. “We were confident but not cocky, and when it just came down to it, things didn’t happen.”

He said the team took off and got out aggressive but it just wasn’t there that day.

“Nobody chickened out or anything,” Miller said. “Everybody did everything they could.”

The first Lion to cross the finish line was freshman Bret Musser who took 11th with a time of 33:48.65.

Next came freshman Dustin Dixon finishing 25th in 34:51.00. Arthur came in at 35:03.50 for 28th. Miller finished 41st with 35:37.30.

Freshman Derek Wright completed the course in 37:13.20. Sophomore Kyle Davis, one of the team’s top finishers who had been sick that week, crossed the finish line in 37:14.80.

Freshman Patrick Maina was unable to finish the race due to injury.

While the heat made it difficult for several of the athletes racing that day, the course itself proved trying.

Arthur said another one of the challenges of the meet was there wasn’t a wide path to run on all the time so they had to get out hard.

“Cross country is more physical than people think, especially back in wooded areas where people can’t see,” he said.

Musser said it was narrow in the woods as well.

“Back in the woods it was one person wide. There was no passing. Pretty much whoever got in the woods first came out first,” he said.

For Musser, getting out, staying in front and not looking back gained him a ticket to the national meet.

Only two individuals in the race qualify for the national meet besides those on the three top finishing teams.

Musser claimed one of those spots and will be heading to the NCAA Division II cross country championships in Pomona, Calif. Nov. 19.

“Bret was able to overcome and ran the best race of his life,” Rutledge said.

Musser said he was surprised to go to a higher caliber meet after conference and do even better. He thought the longer race might’ve helped him out, and he guesses he was prepared for the heat.

“Musser did a good job getting out fast and was able to hold on and the rest of us couldn’t push through the heat,” Arthur said.

While Musser won’t be taking any of his teammates with him, he said it will still be a good experience to go to nationals, and a great honor as a freshman to go.

“I won’t have to worry about how the team is doing but can just go out and compete,” he said.

He said maybe next year the whole team will go.

“They gave me everything I asked for,” Rutledge said, “and I’m still proud of the ones that were there.”

While the team’s youth was considered a weakness at the beginning of the season, Rutledge said it is actually their strength.

“We had success with a young group,” he said. “I admire them because all too often freshmen are afraid to step up.”

Rutledge said the team proved themselves to not be afraid to try.

He also said the team had great leadership.

“We surprised a lot of people,” Arthur said. “Because the team is so young, a lot of people didn’t think we could accomplish what we did.”

Arthur said they had fun and everyone who ran at conference will be able to run next year, so they should be pretty good.