By close votes, Missouri Southern ranks second in both the men’s and women’s cross country preseason polls, announced Thursday by the conference office.
The Lions received four first-place votes from both the men’s and women’s coaches around the league.
Southwest Baptist is the top team in both polls. The Bearcats were conference runners-up on both sides last year, and they return eight of their top 10 men’s runners and nine of the top 10 women.
SBU’s men also had four first-place votes and 58 total points, one more than Missouri Southern. Fort Hays State nabbed the remaining No. 1 vote and was third with 47 points.
In the women’s poll, SBU had five first-place votes and 94 points, followed by the Lions with 92 points and Pittsburg State with two first-place votes and 86 points.
Missouri Southern is the defending champion in the women’s race and posted a top-20 finish in the national meet, but the Lions suffered big graduation losses.
“Our expectations and goals every year are to win the conference championship,” Lions coach Patty Vavra. At the same time, I know there is a great wealth of talent in our conference, great coaches in our conference. It’s always a great challenge.
“Last year we stepped up at the right time and everything came together. But some of it is planning and training to have a great race on that particular day. That’s what we’ll be working toward this year.”
By contrast, the Lion men return all the runners from last year’s team that rebounded from a disappointing race at the conference meet to finish eighth in the NCAA Championships on the MSSU course.
“The expectations are the same as they generally are here,” new Lions head coach Bryan Schiding said. “We hope to win the conference meet, finish as one of the top teams in the regional meet and then hopefully improve on our eight-place finish at nationals last year.
“Maturity has a lot to do with it. Last year they finished with two juniors and three sophomores, so this year we have two seniors and three juniors with a couple of underclassmen who should do very well.”
The Lions open their season Sept. 6 at Arkansas. The conference meet will be hosted by Pittsburg State.
“That’s really special,” Gorillas coach Russ Jewett said. “You don’t get to do that very often. The place we’re going to be racing, we train there on a weekly basis. We feel it is a true home course for us, and there is going to be a special feeling when we host, going on that course with our uniform on ... we’re at home. We look forward to it.”
The Gorillas were third in the women’s conference meet last year and qualified for the national meet.
“We were not happy with the third-place finish,” Jewett said. “I feel we could have won it, but we got beat by a couple of better teams. Building on that means sharpening our focus, getting a little more mentally prepared for a very tough conference championship.”
The Gorillas are seventh in the men’s poll.
“It won’t be hard to improve on last year’s finish,” Jewett said. “We had some unexpected injuries and didn’t deal with those very well. This year we’re building on that by working just as hard or harder than last year but finding a way to stay healthy.”
MIAA cross country polls
The MIAA coaches cross country polls, with first-place votes in parentheses and total points:
Southwest Baptist (4) 58
Missouri Southern (4) 57
Fort Hays State (1) 47
Central Missouri 34
Northwest Missouri 30
Pittsburg State 28
Emporia State 8
Southwest Baptist (5) 94
Missouri Southern (4) 92
Pittsburg State (2) 86
Central Missouri 73
Northwest Missouri 62
Fort Hays State 50
Central Oklahoma 30
Emporia State 16