Southern season officially on the line



Matt Barney, Sports Writer

The Missouri Southern cross country teams will take to the course tomorrow at the NCAA Division II Central Region Championship in Wayne, Neb. The race will be the biggest competition of the year for the team and, for some, the biggest race of their lives.

The race comes two weeks to the day after both men’s and women’s teams swept the MIAA Conference Championship meet. Both teams garnered another important honor for their teams Nov. 11 when head coaches Patty Vavra and Bryan Schiding were named 2014 MIAA Cross Country Coach of the Year in recognition for their teams’ achievements.

“For the coaches in this conference to actually vote you as the Coach of the Year is big because this is a very tough conference and a highly respected group of coaches, and getting Coach of the Year amongst that group is an honor,” said Vavra. “More importantly, you don’t win Coach of the Year honors without your athletes winning championships, so it’s really just another honor for them, in my mind, for what they’ve been able to accomplish.”

Both coaches downplayed the award, saying assistant men’s and woman’s coach Jamie Burnham is the real man deserving of the accolades.

“It’s great for the program, it’s great for Missouri Southern, but ultimately it needs to be realized that Coach Burnham is very deserving of that award, more so than myself,” said Schiding. “He’s the Xs and Os, he’s the guy who’s with the distance program every single day.”

“That’s the person that needs to get a lot of credit that sometimes doesn’t; he does a super job with our distance runners year around. I’m fortunate to get to work with him in cross country,” said Vavra.

Tomorrow’s race will pit the Lions against some of the toughest competition in Division II as they match up with teams such as Augustana College, No. 7 in the country, and the University of Sioux Falls, No. 11.

“I think we’re underestimated, but Sioux Falls needs to be beaten by us. There is no reason we can’t beat them,” said senior Andrew Webster. “We want to match up against Augustana the best we can, and hopefully we come out on top; a ranking sheet means nothing to us.”

“I think we are going to give more than Augustana and Sioux Falls are expecting from us,” said senior Colton Wooldridge. “Augustana has a strong pack, but I think our pack can outrun Sioux Falls.”

Despite the pressure both teams are facing to win, most enter tomorrow’s race feeling positive.

“I’m really excited to get to experience regionals with such a strong team,” said sophomore Emily Harris. “I haven’t gotten nervous yet because I’m not trying to think about it.”

“I’m excited to get it done and then hopefully get the opportunity, yet again, to focus on a national championship,” said Webster.