Southern prepares to host 2,000 athletes at Stampede

Shelby Neubeck, Staff Writer

It’s a busy year for Missouri Southern’s cross country teams. The Lions play host to many big events this season, the largest being the First to the Finish Southern Stampede.

“This is the true opening meet of the season,” Women’s Head Coach Patty Vavra said. “This is a meet we really look toward. Our young ladies really get excited about it and get to running well.”

“I’ve always said if you can’t get excited for this meet, you can’t get excited for anything. The combination of all of it gives us a really great setting to, in my eyes, officially start the season out.”

The Southern Stampede is a long standing annual cross country meet founded by men’s cross country coach Tom Rutledge. Rutledge created the Southern Stampede in 1988 with a just few college teams.

Now bringing in over 2,000 high school and college athletes every year, the Southern Stampede is one of the largest cross country meets in the nation and is still growing.

“It’ll be interesting; knowing that we’re hosting the national championship and the regional championship, we’re expecting a larger field of teams. There’ll be some great individuals and some great teams,” Vavra said.

 The Southern Stampede pulls in revenue for the school and the surrounding area. The colleges and high schools that drive long distance, not to mention the parents of the 2,000 visiting athletes, come to Joplin, stay in local hotels, and visit local restaurants.

“We have 2,000 athletes, their moms, dads, dogs and cats coming to Joplin. We’ve got people from all over the country,” Rutledge said. “I mean, we have people from Kentucky coming in, University of Arkansas coming up. Division-I schools come to see us now.”

The meet  is held on Southern’s cross country course, a grassy 5K loop that starts at the MSSU cross country scenic gateway and finishes just south of the starting line.

The Lion cross country team has been training on the course, prepping for the big day, for weeks now.

“My first time running in Southern Stampede we were a really young team,” said junior distance runner Jake Benton from Wentzville, Mo.

“This year, we’re a lot more experienced. We’ve got a lot of upperclassmen so I think that’s really going to influence how we run. It’s going to be a great race, so everyone should come out and watch.”

Freshman distance runner Ryan Jackson  will be competing in Southern Stampede for the first time.

“I’m nervous, but I’m also really excited,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome coming into a big cross country team like this and really representing Missouri Southern.

“So, I’m going to run a great race for my team on Saturday. We’re all going to group up and I know we’ll run really well.”

This season, Southern will also host NCAA Division-II Nationals and Regionals.

Southern Stampede preps Lion athletes as well as other athletes for both meets in the future.

“I’m definitely excited, because it’s one of the bigger meets that we compete and it’s the first big meet that we compete at as a team so it should be exciting,” said junior distance runner Rachel Schrader.

“I’m really excited for this year and to see what we can do because the stampede has a lot more depth this year so, I want to see how our team comes out of it.”

The Southern Stampede will take place tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the MSSU cross country course.