SFA Set to Host SLC Championships
Oct. 24, 2006
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - After racking up a ton of mileage, both on the course and on the way to various courses around the country -- Auburn, Ala., Fayetteville, Ark., Terre Haute, Ind. -- the Stephen F. Austin cross country teams will get to wrap up the regular season with a home race Friday. The Lumberjacks and Ladyjacks will host the Southland Conference Championships for the first time since 2001, when the SFA men captured the first of their five straight SLC titles.
This year's conference meet will be held at Pecan Acres Park, less than a warm-up jog away from the SFA campus. Friday's action will begin at 9:30 a.m. with the women's 6,000-meter race. The men's 8,000-meter run will follow at 10:30.
"It's definitely to our advantage to host the meet," SFA cross country coach Lou Snelling said. "Not having to travel is nice."
The SFA athletes will also have the edge of course familiarity on their side. The Lumberjacks and Ladyjacks use the looped course at Pecan Park year-round as part of their training regimen. The course for both races will start and end at the west end of the park with the women running four circuits and the men making five loops.
"Aside from our experience on the course, it is relatively neutral," Snelling said. "It's pretty straightforward. I don't see any real advantages for any particular team in the conference."
The real advantage in hosting the meet is its timetable. The SLC Championships have traditionally been held on a Monday. Holding the meet Friday will give participants more time to recover heading into the NCAA South Central Region Championships, scheduled for Nov. 11 in Waco, Texas.
"Our whole reason for hosting this year was to get as much recovery time as possible before regionals," Snelling said. "By moving the race day up, we're gaining 72 hours of recovery time from what we would normally work with.
"This way, we can really go after it at conference and have plenty of time to recover before we go for it again at the regional championships."
And, with the field for this year's SLC Championships, Snelling expects that his teams will definitely have to go after it, if they hope to keep pace. An influx of foreign runners has thickened the talent pool on the men's side, and the Ladyjacks will try to dethrone an experienced defending champion in Lamar.
"Before this year, in the men's race, it's always been Sam Houston pushing us," Snelling said. "They return a lot of guys with solid experience this year, so I don't expect that to change. But Lamar also looks really strong. They have four very talented guys who will be right there in the mix."
The Lumberjacks boast plenty of talent themselves. SFA returns all five scoring runners from last season, when the Lumberjacks placed five athletes in the Top 10 for the first time in school history. Cody Clark won the individual title. Teddy Fanta, Cole Hollingsworth, Chance Edwards and Rodney Joseph all joined him in the Top 10 with all-conference honors. SFA will also run seniors Marc Farris and Julian Acuna, who redshirted last season to make the 2006 team stronger.
SFA will take on Sam Houston's experienced squad, as well as some tough competitors from Lamar and SLC newcomer Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Cardinals brought in three Ugandan athletes this season, and the Islanders are led by a trio of Kenyan-born runners.
"The interesting thing to watch is the foreign talent that has come into the league this year," Snelling said. "They'll definitely have an impact on the race."
In the women's race, SFA will be gunning for two-time defending champion Lamar. Despite back-to-back individual championships by Ashley Monteau the last two years, the Ladyjacks finished second to the Cardinals in both 2004 and 2005. Along with Monteau, SFA returns all five scoring runners from last season, including 2005 all-conference selection Katrina Nicholas and Amber Bagwell, who finished just outside the Top 10 at No. 12. The Ladyjacks have their work cut out for them.
"The women's race is really interesting this year," Snelling said. "Lamar is the defending conference champion, and they return four of their top five runners from last year. Their top three are running really well, right now.
"Corpus Christi should be pretty solid, as well. They'll be in the mix for sure, as will Texas-San Antonio. They have a very senior-laden squad."
Both SFA teams are coming off a long break, following their toughest races of the season. Two weeks ago, the Lumberjacks ran at the NCAA Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., while the Ladyjacks raced in the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Lumberjacks ran against a field loaded with some of the nation's top talent and finished 21st as a team. Farris led SFA by finishing 55th, and Acuna, running his first competitive race of the season, took 63rd.
"We were at a race with, at that point, 22 of the Top 30 teams in the nation," Snelling said. "We ran a very average race, and you just can't do that there. On the other hand, we were the highest-placing school from our region in the race. On an individual level, Julian stepped up and ran really well, with that being his first race of the year."
The Ladyjacks finished 20th in a tough field that featured some of the South's top teams. Monteau finished 36th individually. Classmate LaKoa McKeever was 114th, and junior Kirsten Wieseman turned in a time of 22:50.5 to finish 130th.
"With the women's race two weeks ago, we were coming off a big training cycle, and everyone was really tired," Snelling said. "We had an average day, and it's tough to do that and be successful at a race of that caliber. Kirsten had a big day, stepping up to run in under 23 minutes. That was a big breakthrough for her."
-- SFA --