By Jim Fryar
Globe Sports Writer
The Stampede returns to Joplin today.
Nearly 2,000 runners are expected to compete in the First to the Finish Missouri Southern Stampede, a cross country race with both high school and college divisions.
Organizers hope only the active participants return. The weather from last year? Unwanted.
A violent storm, with persistent lightning and heavy rain, forced cancellation of the Stampede a year ago. Today’s forecast, with a 100 percent chance of rain now reduced to 40 percent, has been closely by approximately 100 high schools, junior colleges and universities with runners in today’s meet.
The first race, the small college-juco women’s competition, begins at 8 a.m. in the field north of Fred G. Hughes Stadium. A university-open women’s race follows, then two men’s races.
The first of four high school races, the girls varsity competition, begins at 10:30, followed by the boys and two junior varsity races.
Somewhere in the midst of this organizational nightmare, the Missouri Southern coaches will find time to guide their own promising teams.
“I’m excited to see what they can do at the 5,000-meter distance,” said Patty Vavra, the Southern women’s coach. “We have two more weeks of training since the Arkansas (dual) meet, which was extremely early this year. “
Senior All-American Marlee Tegen-kamp, juniors Rachel Schrader and Kaitlyn Belisle and freshman Emily Harris are established as the top four runners. Developing a top seven remains a goal, with four of the team’s 11 members not expected to compete today.
Belisle led the Lions in their opening meet, with Tegenkamp still slowed from a heel injury. Schrader missed the meet due to academic commitments.
Southern men’s coach Tom Rutledge was not pleased with the opening performance of his Lions.
“We’re still young, but we are a year older than we were last year,” he said. “We have good competition, so we will be able to gauge ourselves.
“We’ve made some improvements and I think they (runners) understand we need to continue to improve if they’re going to make a run for it (MIAA and district honors).
“We’ve had some good practices. It’s their course and they know it. We’re going to be a lot more aggressive this time than we were at Arkansas.”
Sophomores Eric Schott and Adrian Todd were the top Southern runners against the Razorbacks.
Weather? Organizers hope for the best.
“Last year was torture,” Rutledge said. “The meet has grown so large, when you cancel something like that, it really hurts. We depend on that meet to help finance our program.”
There was a recent time when meet officials hoped for rain. The course, which runs north and east of Hughes Stadium, was dry, the grass brittle and burned off from a long hot summer.
“The course is probably the worst it’s ever been,” Rutledge said. “The (recent) rains have helped, but we have some dry spots where the grass has died. We’re spoiled (with a dedicated course, normally green for the mid-September race). But this summer was bad, and was very hard on the course.”
The Lions are preparing for two more big home meets later this season. They will host both the North Central Regional and later, the NCAA Division II national championships.