The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 15, 2012

Augustana, RMAC headline field

By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor

— Why is cross country so strong in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference?

“We race against each other week in and week out,” Western State coach Jennifer Michel said. “You have to improve or get left behind.”

RMAC powerhouses Adams State and Western State along with Augustana from the Northern Sun Conference rank as the favorites in Saturday’s NCAA Division II cross country meet at the Missouri Southern course. The men’s 10K race will begin at 10:30 a.m., and the women’s 6K race starts at 11:30.

Western State and Adams State finished 1-2 in the men’s cross country championships last November in the snow in Spokane, Wash., and Colorado Mines and Metropolitan State placed fifth and ninth, respectively. RMAC runners claimed six of the first seven spots and 11 of the top 25.

Western State took second place and Adams State fourth in the women’s race last year. RMAC runners occupied three of the top five places and seven of the top 25.

Western State took second place and Adams State fourth in the women’s race last year. RMAC runners occupied three of the top five places and seven of the top 25.

“The schools around here are devoted to being strong in distance races,” Michel said. “We have great high school runners in Colorado. That helps … recruiting good athletes from a local pool.”

“For many years we have had a great tradition here,” said Damon Martin, who has coached 23 national champion cross country teams – 17 women and six men – and three track championship teams at Adams State. “With Adams State’s success and Western State got strong, and after Western State got strong, the other schools started investing more in it.

“It’s the pride of Colorado and the RMAC, strong cross country and track teams. And we have great coaches in the RMAC. The level of coaching the kids receive is high caliber. A couple of years ago RMAC schools went 1-2-3 at nationals. I don’t know if that will happen again, but we have some really strong teams. I think we’re very capable of putting four schools in the top eight on the men’s side and very possibly two or three in the top eight in the women’s side.”

Adams State, Western State and Colorado Mines – also from the RMAC – are the top three teams in this week’s men’s national pool, and Adams State is second and Western State fourth in the women’s ranking.

Augustana is the defending women’s champion and the No. 1 team in this week’s poll. The Vikings return six runners from last year’s team and dominated the Central Region field on the MSSU course on Nov. 3.

“Every year is different though,” Vikings coach Tracy Hellman said. “We’re going to have to run well to defend. There are some really good teams out there. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be really difficult but we’re definitely going to have an opportunity (to repeat).”

Augustana’s men are ranked fifth this week, and Grand Valley State, Alaska Anchorage and Edinboro also have both teams in this week’s poll.

Isaac Chavez, a junior from Chico State, is the highest returning finisher after taking third place last year. Tabor Stevens of Adams State and Alex Monroe of Lock Haven are back after placing sixth and 10th, respectively.

Alicia Nelson of Adams State was women’s runner-up a year ago behind a senior. Also back after top-10 finishes are Kelly Lamb of Adams State (fifth), Dakota Wolf of Mary (sixth) and Katie Spratford of Shippensburg (10th).