Eighteen years ago, 39 runners lined up for the first Missouri Southern Stampede. Tomorrow, more than 2,500 runners will line up for what is now one the nation’s biggest cross country meets.

“This is always a good meet,” said Tom Rutledge, men’s cross country coach. “We’ve been doing this for a long time now. We put a lot of work into it.”

The collegiate women will start at 9 a.m. followed by the collegiate men at 9:45 a.m. High School Athletes will begin running at 10:30 a.m. There will be more than 700 boys in the high school competition alone.

“There will also be fun run,” Rutledge said. “It starts at noon. Everybody and anybody who wants to run, can. They just need to show up.”

The women’s team, which did not run at the University of Central Missouri Invite last week, will run a veteran team tomorrow. Southern will run senior Kara Eckard, juniors Kimi Shank, Courtney Waltbillig, Ashley Bunch, and sophomore Olga Bulgurova.

All five were part of the team which finished second at last year’s Stampede behind the University of Tulsa.

The women will run against 12th ranked Harding and 17th ranked Pittsburgh State.

Southern is nationally ranked ninth and top ranked in the South Central Region going into the meet.

The men’s team will run junior Brennan Benkert and freshman Aki Nummela. Benkert finished in 9th place last week at UCM with a time of 21:25. Nummela finished 13th.

“We put in a better effort last week,” Rutledge said. “We fixed some things and had a little bit of an attitude adjustment. We are starting to let Brennan and Aki break away from the pack and they are doing really well for us.”

Overall, the team earned a fifth place finish.

“I thought the race at Warrensburg went pretty well,” Benkert said. “We had some freshmen step up and show how tough they can be. I’m looking forward to what they can do as the season goes on.”

Jarrko Jarvenpaa will also run tomorrow.

“Jarrko will be fun to watch,” Rutledge said of the sophomore. “He put in a good summer. He ran really well in Finland.”

As of press time, it was still not decided on whether senior Dustin Dixon would run. Dixon broke his fibula last season at the Division II National Cross Country meet.

“He still may not be at full strength,” Rutledge said. “He is making progress. He had a severe break, and I don’t want to stand the chance of injuring him.”

“I know if it was up to Dustin he would run, but as a coach, I have to think about it. We need him bad, but as of now, I still don’t know.”

Freshmen Derek Mendell, Deric Kimrey, Shawn Goebel, Chris Bell, John Williams and Jake Crocker will run in their first Stampede.

Mendell finished 25th at the UCM Invite last week, while Goebel finished 53rd. Bell and Kimrey finished 63rd and 64th respectively in the 167 runner meet.

“They are starting to move up,” Rutledge said. “We have a young team, and we are really going to have to rely on the freshman to get the job done.”

The meet will consist of schools such as Drury, Southwest Baptist, and Central Missouri. The University of Tulsa and the University of Arkansas will be among some of the Division I schools competing in the meet.

Admission is free for student with valid I.D., and $2 for the public. Half of the admission will be donated to the Southwest Missouri Special Olympics.