Rutledge, Vavra: Polls mean nothing

Jordan Larimore

Before most students began thinking about classes or any of the other work that comes with the beginning of the semester, the Missouri Southern Cross Country teams began their preparations for the season.

Both the men’s and women’s teams have been picked high in their respective preseason polls.

The women were picked to finish No. 1 in the MIAA and the men were picked No. 2. Although both teams are expected to succeed, their coaches note that the rankings do not determine the outcome of their season.

“It’s definitely great recognition for the past teams we’ve had, many times the preseason ranking is based upon your finish from the previous year,” women’s Head Coach Patty Vavra said. “And this group of young ladies, we’ve won the conference the past three years, and we were able to win the regional championship the last two years and qualify the team for the national meet.”

Men’s Head Coach Tom Rutledge shares a similar opinion on the preseason rankings.

“Polls mean nothing,” he said. “We’re predicted to be second behind SBU [Southwest Baptist University] but they mean nothing. Pittsburg and Central and Emporia State, they all look at Southern and put targets on our back.

“It’s nothing. It’s how you finish the race.”

Both coaches recognize that the MIAA will provide more competition this year than in the past, but they also believe their teams have every ability to succeed.

“We have some great experience,” Vavra said. “Not only experience but we have athletes that have been very successful, if you look at our seniors, they’ve won the conference championship all three years they’ve been here.

“They’re the group that have brought the accolades and the recognition to this team. They have the desire to finish up their career, making that perfect MIAA Championship run and to make it another chance to get to the national meet.” Rutledge said he is also confident with his team.

“It should be a good team,” he said. “We were good last year, we finished second in the conference, the first time we’ve finished second in many years, we usually have won it. We won the conference in cross country in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, we fell asleep in 2004, won it in 2005, 2006, 2007, and came in second, SBU beat us in conference. We had a mental lapse, and hopefully that won’t happen.”

As far as pressure with the entire conference expecting the teams to succeed, the coaches believe that there is a certain amount of pressure, but their teams’ experience with that pressure makes it a non-issue.

“The great thing for us is that we have a group of five young ladies that have been in our program for four years that are seniors,” Vavra said. “I think there is pressure but this is a group that has been able to succeed under pressure, and they’ve been in that position before and have really thrived under the pressure.”

Rutledge says his men are ready for the pressure because they have historically been the team to beat.

“It’s always been that way, we’ve been picked number one, number two, for the last 10 years, and we’ve finished number one or two for the last 10 years,” he said. “I don’t look at the MIAA is the thing, it’s going to be tougher this year than most, and SBU broke our string, we had another string going. Well it’s up to us to bring it back home again, its not going to be easy.

“I’m going to treat them like we’re the worst team in the conference right now. We’ve gotta earn the right each and every year, just because you’re picked high, it means nothing.”

For now, the teams are working hard and preparing for their first meet, at the University of Arkansas on Sept. 4.