By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern is second in this week’s Central Region men’s cross country ranking, and six more MIAA teams join the Lions in the top 10.
That sets the stage for a strong conference meet today in Maryville, Mo.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Lions coach Tom Rutledge said. “There is more parity than there has ever been. We have a good chance. We haven’t had a real bad race all year, but we have to have a good race Saturday.
The meet will be run at the Maryville Country Club. The men’s race (8K) will start at 10 a.m., and the women’s race (6K) will begin at 11.
Southwest Baptist is fourth in the region this week, Fort Hays State fifth, Northwest Missouri State sixth, Nebraska-Kearney seventh, Central Missouri eighth and Pittsburg State 10th.
The Lions won the Jackling Jocks invitational at Missouri S&T two weeks ago when five runners finished in the top 10 — Adrian Todd second, Eric Schott third, Andrew Webster fourth, Jake Benton seventh and Colton Wooldridge 10th. Webster, however, suffered a quad injury in the meet and has had limited workouts since.
The Lions also finished second behind Tulsa in the First to the Finish Southern Stampede and sixth at the Oklahoma State Jamboree. Schott was third in the Southern Stampede and 27th — fifth among Division II runners — at Oklahoma State. Todd took 11th and Benton 14th in the Southern Stampede.
Also running for the Lions today are Ryan Jackson, Nick Niggemann and Sam Pogue.
The Lions’ women team hasn’t been at full strength all season, and that will be the case again today as freshman Emily Harris will not run because of back issues. She led the Lions with her 14th place finish in the Stampede.
Marlee Tegenkamp (back problems) and Kaitlyn Belisle (groin problem) have been slowed during the season, and Rachel Schrader’s work in the nursing program has reduced her practice time. Schrader placed 28th — fourth among Division II runners — at the Oklahoma State Jamboree, and Belisle and Tegenkamp were sixth and 10th, respectively, at Missouri S&T two weeks ago.
Lauren Baehr, who finished 14th at Missouri S&T, will run for the Lions today along with Addie Mengwasser, Cassy Kendrick, Jet Hovis and Kelsie Hutsell.
“The silver lining with all the injuries is it has forced our 5-6-7-8 runners to really step up and improve throughout the season,” coach Patty Vavra said. “We’ve had to depend on them in several races, and they have responded extremely well.’’
The Lions finished third in the Stampede behind Tulsa and Arkansas, and they were third at Missouri S&T behind Southwest Baptist and Pittsburg State.
In this week’s Central Region ranking, Southwest Baptist is fifth, Missouri Southern sixth, Pittsburg State seventh, Central Missouri ninth and Northwest Missouri 10th.
“We’ll show up and compete hard and well,” Vavra said. “The conference meet is for bragging rights. You throw the stopwatch out the window and compete for your team. You see how many you can beat and how many teams you can keep behind you.”