By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
There is obvious motivation for Missouri Southern’s cross country teams on Saturday when they serve as the host for the Central Region meet on Saturday morning.
“We host nationals in two weeks,” Jake Benton said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the team, but a good kind of pressure. It makes us want to rise to the occasion. That would be terrible if we did not qualify because then we’d have to work it and watch all the other teams race.”
“It would be awful if we have to work it,” Marlee Tegenkamp said. “I really think we can do it. I hope our nerves don’t get to us too much because that can really affect some people.”
The men’s 10K race starts at 9:30 on Saturday, and the women’s 6K begins an hour later. The top five women’s teams and top four men’s teams qualify for the national meet on Nov. 17, also on the MSSU course.
Each region is allowed three team qualifiers plus an additional qualifier if it includes a top-eight finisher from the previous year’s national meet. Augustana (S.D.) is the defending women’s national champion, and Mary (N.D.) placed fifth. Augustana also claimed sixth place in the men’s field.
It’s a new — and more difficult — region for the MIAA schools this year. The MIAA is in the Central Region with the Northern Sun and Great American Conference after competing against Lone Star and Heartland schools in the South Central Region.
“I would say there is more parity,” Lions women’s coach Patty Vavra said. “The Northern Sun is very strong, the MIAA very strong ... obviously with the two additional team berths we didn’t have very often in the South Central.
“When you look at the (women’s) results of the MIAA and the results of the Northern Sun if you take Augustana out, they are just almost even. Augustana still looks to be the clear, dominant team. I think there will be as many as eight teams vying for those five spots.”
“In the past in the South Central, all we had to worry about was our conference and Abilene Christian,” Lions men’s coach Tom Rutledge said. “Now we have cross country schools coming down.”
The Lions haven’t spent much time on their course until this week after the deluge during the Southern Stampede on Sept. 15.
“The women’s races went great, then the bottom fell out,” Rutledge said. “Four inches (of rain) in four hours with 2,000 runners, the course didn’t have a chance, and there wasn’t anything I could do. It was like a ball rolling downhill and it was too big. I couldn’t stop it.
“Right now it’s been packed. If we don’t get any rain, it will be awesome. It will be a fast course, and they will love it.”
Still, there’s no place like home.
“Being somewhat familiar with your home course, even though you haven’t been on it for two months,” Vavra said with a laugh. “Just having the home atmosphere is positive, and there is just something about wanting to defend your own property here.”
The regional gives the Lions’ men a chance to redeem themselves after a third-place finish in the MIAA meet two weeks ago in Maryville.
“By all accounts we did not have our best race that day,” Benton said. “We’ve been talking all week about we have a vendetta now. We have something to prove now. At conference we were the team to beat, and now we’re kind of underdogs. I think most of the team enjoys that.”
Southern’s women won a close battle for the conference crown, although they didn’t have any idea exactly where they stood for several minutes.
“When we finished we really had no clue what place we got because everybody was so spread out,” Tegenkamp said. “I thought (Pittsburg State) had it. I didn’t expect us to be up there. Then in a group huddle, Jamie (Burnham, assistant coach) said ‘Oh by the way, congratulations, you guys won.’
“For me as a senior, I’ve been to nationals the previous three years. It’s extra motivation for me so I can say I’ve been to nationals all four years.”