The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's and women's cross country teams head to Piney Wood Country Club in Nacogdoches Monday as they seek to claim Southland Conference gold.
The Islander women will be seeking to defend their Southland Conference crown from a season ago. They will run a six-kilometer race at 9 a.m. The Islander men will be looking to swipe the title for defending champion Lamar in an 8K race at 9:45 a.m.
Despite winning the title last season, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi head coach Shawn Flanagan sees the women entering as the underdog to the host Lady Jacks, but believes they can challenge.
"On paper, I think you'd have to say that SFA is the favorite because it is a hilly course and that favors them as a team, " said the coach. "I have talked with some the coaches in the league and they say the same things, which is fine with me.
"I think with the way we have trained since Arkansas where we had a good race and how we have improved each time, that I like out chances. The women's race appears to be a lot closer than the men's."
Led by the duo of Samuel Kosgei and Francis Kasagule, the Lamar men are the favorites to repeat in the men's race.
"We have a good-size mountain to climb in the men's race, but we have a chance," said Flanagan. "Lamar has two tremendous runners and we will need all five of our runners to stay healthy. To put ourselves in the hunt we need all five of runners to have strong races and do well. I also think McNeese and SFA could be in the hunt, but Lamar will extremely tough to beat."
Individually, new champions will be crowned in both races as last year's individual champs Clerc Koenck of Lamar in the women's race and former Islander Shadrack Songok are not in the race.
Flanagan believes that the women's race will come down to UTSA's Dana Mecke and the Islanders own Anne Ronoh.
"Dana Mecke won multiple awards during the season and twice beat Anne," said Flanagan. "Anne closed the gap the second time and I think has really improved since the last time they met like the rest of the team. Dana is a tremendous all-around runner, but Anne is a strong hill runner. I also think SFA and McNeese have runners that could compete for the title."
In the men's race, Flanagan thinks it will likely come down to the Lamar tandem, but notes Southeastern and McNeese have strong runners as well. He also believes Islander sophomore Scott Vance can challenge if he gets in the front pack early.
"Samuel and Francis are the top two runners and Samuel has beaten Francis most of the time this season," said the Islander mentor. "Southeastern has a pair of strong Kenyans in Henry Rop and Kalphys Kemboi, who should also challenge. If Scott can stay with the leaders early in this race anything is possible."