Lumberjacks Look to Make it Five Straight
Oct. 30, 2005
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin cross country teams head to Natchitoches, La. Monday for the Southland Conference Championships looking to continue a pair of big streaks and begin another one anew. The Lumberjack harriers are gunning for their fifth consecutive team championship, while the women's team has the chance to post an individual champion for the fourth time in as many years.
The SFA men's team comes into the meet having posted two Top 10 finishes, including a sixth-place showing at the Auburn Invitational, earlier this month. The Lumberjacks will run at full strength for the first time this season, when they compete in Natchitoches.
"I'm very excited that for the first time this season, we're going to get all the guys on the starting line at the same time," SFA cross country coach Lou Snelling said.
The Lumberjacks are the team to beat in the men's race, having won the title in each of the last four years. In last year's conference championship in Beaumont, Texas, SFA won convincingly, scoring 32 points to second-place Sam Houston's 50. The Lumberjacks returned the bulk of that team for 2005, but Snelling said his team isn't taking anything for granted against the league competition.
"I think the Southland Conference is always competitive," the coach said. "Each year you have to prove yourself again. The team that shows up and wants it the most usually wins it. I don't see why this year should be any different."
Another team championship this season would give SFA the longest stretch of consecutive titles since Abilene Christian won seven conference races in a row from 1964 to 1970. During their current four-year reign, the Lumberjacks have posted two individual champions, winning in 2002 and 2003. Snelling likens this year's squad to the 2003 team that won with a 40-point margin behind Michael Thompson's first-place finish.
"This group is very competitive," he said. "They've trained very hard over a long period of time, and this group is very fit. They kind of remind me of the group we had two years ago, in that we have a good mix of experienced guys and young, talented freshmen.
"The tradition we have established over the past four to five years definitely helps us, in terms of experience for racing and training. It's nice to be looked at as the team to beat."
In the women's race, the Ladyjacks are looking to get back into championship form after having their two-year title run snapped in a close loss to Lamar last season.
"With Lamar being the defending champs, they're definitely the team to beat," Snelling said.
The SFA women have been strong all season. The Ladyjacks finished fourth in their season opener at Rice, then won the Northwestern State Invitational early this month. On Oct. 15, SFA posted a strong 10th-place showing at the Chile Pepper Festival in a race that included several national powers.
"The great thing about the conference, on the women's side, is that the level of talent has gone up the last couple of years," Snelling said. "That's great to see, and it's always our goal to go and win the championship, regardless of what happened last year."
Last year, SFA finished in second place, 13 points behind Lamar, but Ashley Monteau won the individual title with a time of 20:24 on the 6,000-meter course. This season, Monteau, a junior, already has two individual championships to her credit, and she finished fifth against a strong field at the Chile Pepper Invitational.
"She's extremely fit right now," Snelling said of Monteau. "I think it will be a challenging race for her, but I think it's a race she can really do well in."
The Ladyjacks have captured the conference's individual championship in each of the last three years. SFA won back-to-back team titles in 2002 and 2003, and the Ladyjacks have five SLC championships total to their credit.
Monday's races will be run at the Demon Hills Golf Course in Natchitoches, La. The men's race is set to begin at 9:30 a.m., with the women's competition following at 10:30.
-- SFA --