By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The course is ready.
“It’s been a busy week, but a lot of people put a lot of work in,” Tom Rutledge said. “It’s going to be really neat.
“The course is in great shape. It made it through the rains, and it looks like the weather is going to cooperate. You won’t recognize it with all the banners up and things out there. It’s really quite exciting.”
Rutledge and Patty Vavra, the cross country coaches at Missouri Southern, report their squads also are ready for today’s NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships. Starting times are 10:30 a.m. for the men’s 10K and 11:30 for the women’s 6K.
“The workouts have been going good,” Rutledge said. “We have four strong guys, and my fifth and sixth guys have to get up and do their job and run well. If they do, we’ll do well. Everyone is as healthy as they can get.”
The Lions finished second behind Augustana in the Central Region two weeks ago, also on the MSSU course. Eric Schott placed fifth overall to lead the Lions, and Jacob Benton and Adrian Todd were 13th and 19th overall. Also running today for the Lions will be Andrew Webster, Colton Wooldridge, Ryan Jackson and Nick Niggemann, who was a member of the Lions’ last team to run in nationals when they were 11th in 2009.
“This is the time of year when you taper back and give them every opportunity to have fresh legs,” Vavra said. “All the base work has been laid throughout the season.
“We do have athletes with national experience. Marlee Tegenkamp I believe is our first athlete from either gender to qualify for the national meet all four years. She has a wealth of experience from being in the ‘big dance.’
“Kaitlyn Belisle and Cassy Kendrick have experience in national championships they won at Cowley County. They’ve run at a high level as well. Any time you’ve been put in that setting, it gives you more confidence and more of an idea what to expect, and hopefully that spills over to the rest of the group.”
The MSSU women were fourth in the region behind defending national champion Augustana, Winona State and Mary (N.D.). Rachel Schrader was the Lions’ top finisher in 11th place, followed by Tegenkamp in 18th and Belisle in 21st. Lauren Baehr, Adelene Mengwasser, Kendrick and Jet Hovis complete the Lions’ entries.
This is the third time the cross country nationals have come to the Missouri Southern course.
The Lions did not qualify a team for the 1999 event, dominated by the Western State men and Adams State women.
Five years ago the Lions finished 12th in the men’s division and 13th in the women’s race. Dustin Dixon was 23rd overall and Isaac Garcia 35th to lead the MSSU men, and Kimi Shank took 22nd in the women’s race. Abilene Christian men and Adams State women won team championships.
“Place in the top eight, that’s always one of our goals,” Rutledge said. “Win conference, top three in regional, top eight in nationals. Top eight is like the golden number … it gives you an extra team in next year’s regional.
“These are the best teams in the country. It’s great to be a part of it. It’s great to have it in Joplin on our home course. There will be a lot of people there. I told the guys to stay relaxed, it’s your course and do the best you can. I expect their best race. If we do that, we’ll do OK.”
“Getting to the national championships is great and wonderful,” Vavra said, “and being on our course allows some advantages. We can stay within our routine. We haven’t had to incur the difficulty of travel. Hopefully we have some great fan support from our local community and our university community.
“We’d like to finish the season with our best race, both individually and as a team. We want to represent Missouri Southern and Joplin in a positive light.”
The Lion men are making their 11th national appearance in 14 years. They placed sixth in 2000 in Chino, Calif., and seventh two years later in Ashland, Ohio.
Missouri Southern’s women have made the national meet for the fifth time in six years, spiced by a third-place finish in 2009 in Evansville, Ind. Tegenkamp was the No. 5 runner on that team.