CORPUS CHRISTI - The Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's and women's cross country teams will look to continue their success in the Southland Conference in 2011 after finishing in the top five last year. Between the two teams they have collected four team championships and four individual titles in their five years in the Southland.
"I'm very optimistic," head coach Shawn Flanagan said. "We have a good solid nucleus back of returners for both men and the women, especially on the women's side. We really have a good group of newcomers that I really feel like we will be able to contend both in the men's and women's crowns in the Southland. I also feel we can be a force at the regional level and hopefully get more kids to the national meet and continue our streak over the last four or five years."
The women's team will open the season ranked first in the Southland in the South Central region preseason rankings after finishing second in the conference last season beyond Stephen F. Austin. The team is ranked No. 7 regionally, one spot ahead of the Lumberjacks. Prior to last season, the Islanders had won four straight Southland titles. This season, the team will look to return to the top of the conference with the addition of 16 newcomers.
"On the women's side we lost for the first time in four years last year," Flanagan said. "The girls are hungry to get back into the winner's circle and get some more rings. I'm optimistic those are our legitimate goals and will not be given to us by any chance. We are going to have to scratch and crawl our way through there."
Top runner Julia Sambu is back for her senior year after an impressive junior season. The Eldoret, Kenya, native received All-Southland honors last season after a fourth-place finish at the conference championships. Sambu also posted a second place finish at the Islanders Classic.
Along with Sambu, the Islanders will depend on contributions from eight returners, including senior Sarah Kimaiyo and Kristine Burciaga. Both runners placed just outside of the top 10 at the conference championships. Kimaiyo and Sambu finished in the top 10 at the Ricardo Romo/Six Flags Fiesta Texas Classic and Kimaiyo placed third behind Sambu at the Islanders Splash.
After securing a fifth place finish last season at the conference championships, the Islanders' men's team will look to build off of that success to compete with the best in the conference. The Islanders open the season ranked 10th in the South Central region preseason rankings. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi returns the Southland Male Athlete of the Year and reigning Southland champion Patrick Kimeli, along with six returners and 10 newcomers.
"On the men's team, we haven't won a Southland title in a couple of years so we are about due, but it's going to be tough, there's some good competition out there," Flanagan said. "Patrick is coming back as the individual champion and national qualifier, and with these new kids that we are adding in and the development of some of the returners, I think we're good."
Kimeli is back for his junior year after earning All-Conference honors, becoming the fourth member of the Islanders' program to win an individual crown. The Eldoret, Kenya native placed seventh at the NCAA South Central Regional and became the fifth Islanders runner in the last six years to represent the program at the NCAA Championships. Kimeli finished in the top half of the NCAA championships.
Along with Kimeli, the Islanders return Jacob Abrego, Justin Adame, Jason Garcia, Adrian Marquez and Brandon Steed. Marquez and Adame finished 10th and 11th, respectively, at the Islanders Splash last season, while Adame finished in the top half of the Conference Championships.
"We are getting a good number of people out there," Flanagan added. "The cream is starting to rise to the top. I'm just glad to see the maturation of the program, that we can contend year in and year out on the Southland level and we can contend on the regional level."
The two teams will open their season on the road in Edinburg, Texas, at the Bronc Relay, hosted by UT Pan American. Following that, the Islanders will face a challenging schedule starting with the Rice Invite in Houston, Texas, before returning home to host the Islanders Splash. Last season, both teams sealed victories at the Splash, with Kimeli clinching the individual crown and Sambu claiming the second slot.
The Islanders will then head back on the road to their final two regular season events, the University of Texas Rogue Runners Invite and the annual Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival. The final three meets, will feature the Islanders at the Southland Conference Championships, the NCAA Regional and the NCAA Nationals.
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Coach Flanagan On The Season: