SFA Cross Country Anticipating Big Season
Sept. 1, 2006
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - There is no summer or fall camp for cross country. It's a sport that requires year-round training for those who aim to compete at the highest level. And, in the case of the Stephen F. Austin cross country teams, the 2006 season has been in the makings for over three years.
When coach Lou Snelling took over the Lumberjack and Ladyjack cross country teams in 2003, he already had a talented and successful program to manage. But since that time, he has pointed to this fall as the season when the squad could potentially turn the corner and go from being a Southland Conference power to a nationally respected program. All the pieces have been carefully put into place, and the board is set.
"We've been planning for and looking forward to this season for some time now," Snelling said, "so the team is excited to finally be here at the start of it."
SFA returns virtually every runner who suited up at the SLC Championships last fall, when the Lumberjacks won their fifth straight conference title, and the Ladyjacks finished second. On the men's side, Snelling will also have the services of a pair of strong veterans who red-shirted the 2005 season.
Acuna is a two-time All-Southland Conference selection in cross country, including a runner-up performance at the 2004 league meet. He is a seven-time all-conference honoree overall and has won three individual conference titles in track and field. Acuna was an All-South Central Region selection in 2004, when he finished ninth and qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Farris is a two-time All-SLC selection. He took seventh at the 2004 cross country championships and was 24th at the regional meet that season. Farris also finished second in the 10,000 meters at the 2005 SLC Outdoor Championships.
The experienced duo return to bolster a team that ran away with last year's SLC title, placing all five scoring runners in the Top 10. That marked the first time in school history for all five Lumberjack runners to earn all-conference honors. SFA finished 31 points ahead of second-place team Sam Houston State. Even better, all five of those runners return for the 2006 season, making the Lumberjacks the deepest squad in the conference.
Seniors Cody Clark, Chance Edwards and Rodney Joseph return, as do sophomores Teddy Fanta and Cole Hollingsworth. Clark won the 2005 individual championship and is a two-time All-SLC honoree. Fanta finished fourth last year, Hollingsworth was sixth, Edwards took eighth, and Joseph crossed the line ninth.
"The team is composed almost entirely of Texas athletes, ranging from the smallest Class A schools to the largest 5A programs," Snelling said. "They have worked very hard and lived the necessary lifestyle now for three to five years. Because of that focus, they have developed into a very fit group that has the potential to take this program to a historic level."
The returning talent is thick on the women's side, as well. SFA brings back two-time defending SLC individual champion Ashley Monteau. Monteau is a two-time SLC Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year. She has qualified for the NCAA Championships in cross country each of the last two years, and is a 14-time All-SLC selection and six-time individual champion overall. She took fourth place at last year's regional championships, leading the Ladyjacks to a school-record fifth-place team finish.
Nicholas, a senior, is a three-time all-conference honoree. She finished fifth at last year's cross country championships and is a two-time All-SLC selection in the steeplechase. Bagwell is an all-conference honoree in cross country. She finished 10th at the 2003 league championships and fought off a bout of asthma at last year's meet to come in 12th.
"On top of the experience and accomplishments of the women's returnees, we've added a talented freshman class that will make an immediate impact on the team," Snelling said. "This class is highlighted by Chelsea Bradford, Megan Jenkins and Mandy Willis."
Snelling has compiled a challenging schedule for his squads this season, which starts Friday evening with the Lumberjack Opener, a relay format meet at Pecan Acres Park in Nacogdoches. SFA will travel to the Auburn Invitational in Auburn, Ala., the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark. and the Pre-Nationals meet in Terra Haute, Ind. All three meets are traditionally frequented by some of the top programs in the country, and Snelling sees these dates as a chance for his program to earn some attention at the national level.
"The goals are high for the team, but they have all the necessary ingredients to accomplish those goals," the coach said. "The level of training over the last two to three years has been historic. We have some of the best possible training locations, facilities and equipment, we're traveling across the country to compete at the big meets, and the team focus and environment is at the perfect place. There are no possible excuses. Everything is in place."
-- SFA --