SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will once again host the Southland Conference Championships this Saturday at West Guth Park, with the men scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., while the women start at 9:15 a.m. It is the second time in three years the Islanders have hosted the event.
Both the men's and women's races should be closely contested.
The host Islanders will try for their third SLC title in a row on the women's side with top returnees Anne Ronoh, Caitlin Arambula, Courtney Johnson and Sarah De Los Santos. Also helping the efforts will be Meghan Lemke, who redshirted a season ago and was a top five finisher in 2007, Faith Barlow, who redshirted last season after transferring from UTSA , and freshman BreAnne Briggs.
Challengers include Stephen F. Austin, who finished second last year and feature the duo of Stephanie Ganter and Amy Shackleford. A pair of dark horses on the women's side could be Nicholls and UTSA.
The Bobcats feature Heather Bullin and Amanda McKinney in addition to newcomer Esperanza Lopez as Texas State looks to sneak up the standings and win the team title. Dana Mecke returns for the Roadrunners, who finished first overall last year with the Islanders' Ronoh second, while Kayla Pratt and South Florida transfer Pernilla Savestrand will also help UTSA's chances.
"SFA is the favorite based on what they have shown, UTSA is another good team," said cross country head coach Shawn Flanagan "The ladies know what they need to do, we've improved in practice and hopefully on Saturday they run to their potential which will give us a good chance."
On the men's side, Lamar head coach Jake Stewart looks to lead the Cardinals to back-to-back titles. Returning from last year's team are Francis Kasagule, Hillary Samoei and Drew Bean. Newcomers include Joonas Harjamaki and Alex De La Garza who are ready to help the team repeat. Lamar competed in two tough meets - the Pre-Nationals at Indiana State and at Wisconsin - during the season in preparation for the Southland Championships
Teams who will look to unseat the defending champions are McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin, UTSA and the Islanders.
The Cowboys aren't strangers to West Guth Park after winning the Islander Splash last month. McNeese will feature David Rooney and Johnathon Koenck along with key newcomer Joshua Sawe, who was the top collegiate finisher at the Islander Splash.
Look for a serious run by the Lumberjacks of SFA, led by the strong trio of returnees Dennis Yeats, Mitch Ownby and Keith Mahipala and newcomer Adam Saloom. Adding to the deep roster of talent will be Xavier Rodriquez and Harmon McClanahan.
UTSA's men's team will try to improve on last year's finish and could contend for the team title with their roster consisting only of Texas natives. Top returners are Layne Nixon and Michael Cook with newcomers Brandon Chiuminetta, Jim Stitt and Daniel Balbontin.
The Islanders are led by a solid group of returners with Scott Vance, Ari Perez, Eloy Zertuche and Kirk Dalheim. The trio of newcomers made up of Patrick Kimeli, Jordan Valle, who was Athlete of the Week twice in the early going, and Daniel Barlow look to help the Islanders to a team title.
"Valle and Vance have looked good at practice, but solid performances from some of our secondary guys could bump us up," said Flanagan.
In a year that looks to be closely contested, the Islanders hope the advantage of being on their home course will be instrumental in a top performance at the meet.