The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Missouri Southern Sports

August 30, 2012

MSSU runners go head-to-head against Arkansas

What is tradition for the Missouri Southern cross country teams could be another school’s nightmare: a dual meet with distance running power Arkansas.

“It’s a great test for us,” said Tom Rutledge, Southern men’s coach. “It shows our young people where we need to be if we expect to be good.

“Arkansas is such a great team … among the best in Division 1. It kind of puts things in perspective.”

The meet has been moved ahead one day, in anticipation of heavy rainfall in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, and will be held today in the Fayetteville, Ark. The women’s race begins at 5:30 p.m. and the men run at 6.

Similar expectations have been placed on the Southern programs. Both rated second in preseason MIAA polls.

Yet the beginning positions are different.

The Southern men return virtually everyone from last year’s young team which finished third in the conference meet, a single point out of second.

The Southern women were second a close conference race last year, finishing three points in front of Truman State and four ahead of Southwest Baptist. The Lions return their top two runners, but the other places are still being decided among a variety of candidates.

“We get to put on our spikes, wear the green and gold and be in a competitive setting,” said Patty Vavra, Southern women’s coach. “It’s a great opportunity to get a look at our team. ... But we’ve only been practicing for two weeks, so it’s a little early in our training. Normally this (dual) is a week later.

“We still have a lot of unanswered questions with our group.”

Southern’s men were in that position last year, but a brilliant freshman class allowed the Lions to challenge Central Missouri for league supremacy. Sophomore Jacob Benton led the Lions with a seventh-place finish in the MIAA meet and freshmen were the next four finishers. Eric Schott and Andrew Webster joined Benton in earning all-MIAA recognition, with Adrian Todd and Colton Wooldridge as the next two Lion runners.

A combination of veterans, middle-distance runners and freshmen newcomers will battle to complete the Lions’ top seven.

“Alex Mason (another sophomore) had a breakout year (during the track season),” Rutledge said. “Nick Niggemann (senior and former top runner who has battled injuries for two seasons) is having pretty good workouts.

“We have a lot of kids and if we pack up and run tough, we’ll be pretty competitive. How good are we? We’ll know a lot more after today.”

The Lions’ goal in today’s 4.1-mile race is to have at least six runners finish in under 20 minutes.

The Southern women return senior All-American Marlee Tegenkamp and junior all-region runner Rachel Schrader. But the Lions have battled injuries and roster revisions.

“It seems like anybody I name, something is going on,” Vavra said.

Tegenkamp had an ankle injury which kept her off the track last spring, although she has resumed training. Schrader will miss today’s race due to school commitments.

Kaitlyn Belisle, a junior transfer from Cowley County (Kan.) Community College, is the likely No. 3 runner. Both Belisle and Casey Kendrick, a senior in eligibility, ran for Cowley County’s national championship team. Belisle has a hip injury.

One of last year’s top runners transferred, two dropped from the team because of recurring injuries and another left school. Maggie Tennal, a junior from Lamar who finished fourth for the Lions in the MIAA meet, is currently out with a knee injury.

Sophomores Lauren Baehr and Kylie Brown (from Liberal) and freshmen Emily Harris and Jet Hovis are the other top candidates.

“We have veterans and we have experience,” Vavra said. “It’s a matter of whether we can get 2 or 3 or 4 other runners up there in the overall pack.”

The Lions will hold their First to the Finish Southern Stampede on Sept. 15.

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