With the deepest rosters in the history of both the men's and women's teams, the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi cross country teams kickoff their 2009 campaigns Friday at West Guth Park with the Islander Relays. The women will run at 5:45 p.m. with the men to follow.
Joining the Islanders will be a pair of Southland Conference teams with UTSA and Stephen F. Austin competing as well at West Guth. The park will be the site of three other Islander home events this fall including the Islander Splash on Friday, Sept. 25. After hosting an alumni race on Saturday, Oct. 10, the Islanders host the Southland Conference Championship three weeks later on Oct. 31.
The race will be the first of two early gauges that will allow the teams to know just where they stand as the teams will face each other again at the Texas A&M Invitational next weekend. For the women, who are going after their third straight Southland Conference Championship, they will square off against last year's runner-up SFA. They will also face UTSA which is led by last year's individual champion Dana Mecke. The Roadrunners finished fifth as a team.
On the men's side, the Islanders finished third just behind SFA. UTSA was sixth as a team.
"This week and next weekend will tell us how both teams are doing," said Flanagan. "Right now it is too early to tell just how we strong we can be. I am optimistic because we have a lot of depth on both sides and that will be a key."
The women have 17 runners on their roster with a solid mix of returnees and newcomers. Leading the returnees for the Islanders is Anne Ronoh, who became the first TAMUCC female to compete at the NCAA Championships. Ronoh, who was second to Mecke in the conference meet, advanced with an 11th-place finish at the South Central Region meet.
All-Southland runners Caitlyn Arambula and Courtney Johnson provide depth amongst the other returnees. Also back are Sarah De Los Santos, Sheila Salil, and Kristine Torres. Alex Bullard is also back for her sophomore season, but may redshirt due to injuries.
Meghan Lemke and Daniela Prado are back after redshirting last season. Faith Barlow will see her first action as an Islander after training with the team a season ago and missing the year as a transfer from UTSA.
"We have tremendous depth with 17 runners and I am really optimistic with what we could accomplish," said Flanagan. "Anne looks better at this point this year than she did last year and so does Sheila. Caitlyn and Courtney have been solid, but Kristine may miss a period of time with an injury.
"Meghan has been hampered by her ankle, but I expect her to be ready. Thus far, Sarah has been the best surprise. She is running better than anyone."
Several newcomers could also figure into the mix. Breanna Briggs, Shelby Nicholls and Melissa Jones have all looked ready to make an impact in training. Emily Jones and Cara Patterson will likely be redshirted.
"Breanna has run well in training," said Flanagan. "Shelby and Melissa have also been in good form. They should be able to step up if the returnees struggle."
With the added depth, Flanagan is hoping to win his third straight Southland Conference title in women's cross country and improve its regional ranking.
"Stephen F. Austin may have the top two runners this year so for us to be successful we need to place five to seven runs between their second and third runners," said the coach. "If we can get one of our top runners to get in between their first two, I think we will be in a position to have a banner year. It would put us in a position to crack the top four in the region and compete for a spot in the national meet as a team."
The men will be looking to improve on their third place finish a season ago and have a core of four returnees they are counting on. Scott Vance is the top returning finisher from last year's SLC meet placing 11th to just miss all-conference honors. Ari Perez, Kirk Dalheim and Eloy Zertuche also return with experience.
"Thus far, Ari, Kirk and Eloy have come back looking strong in practice," said Flanagan. "Scott has struggled and is coming around slowly. I am hopeful he will come around when it counts."
A group of newcomers have caught the veterans eye.
"Jordan Valle has run as well as any," said Flanagan. "Patrick Kimeli arrived late from Kenya but has looked very good since getting off the plane. Curtis Patton and Daniel Barlow have also trained well, but I think the biggest surprise for me in training has been David Wells.
"We have a handful of other newcomers that we may redshirt, but am not sure if we will need them. With the depth that we have on the men's side, I think we have the best men's team we've had from top to bottom."
Flanagan's goal is to finish in the top two.
"Lamar is favored to win the title again and SFA will be tough again," said the coach. "But I am optimistic that we can compete with them. Lamar will be in the running for a spot in the national meet and if things go really well we could compete with them. However, that being said we will have our hands full with SFA and UTSA."
"I am excited for both the men and women," said the coach. "The newcomers have impressed on each side, while the returnees appear to have done their work over the summer to be ready for the new season."