Clarksville, Ark.- With the momentum from last season?s success still pushing them forward, both the Men?s and Women?s Cross Country teams are eyeing fast finishes for the fall.
After finishing last season’s NCAA Division III South/Southeast Regional in the top ten for the first time in school history, the Ozarks men are looking to continue the winning culture that has developed in recent history.
“It’s very contagious,” said Head Coach Brian Hull of his team’s excitement for the season. “The energy is there. I can see it in the upperclass leaders. They’ve seen what was done before them, and they’re trying to continue that.”
Despite losing four seniors to graduation, the Eagles still have plenty of experience to guide them through any rough terrain they might encounter this fall. The men’s team will compete with five runners that have collegiate experience.
Matt Friant, a junior from Conway, Ark., will lead the charge for the men’s team as one of the runners with the most collegiate experience. Friant, who finished tenth overall at least season’s American Southwest Conference Championships, was named to the All-Conference Team last fall as a sophomore.
“Matt is going to have a great year,” said Hull. “He’s definitely got all the right tools to become that top male runner. Calvin Jones is going to be another solid piece to kind of lead some of the new guys, and we have several upperclassmen that are going to be outstanding leaders and just add contributions in various areas that will help develop our team.”
The women’s squad is also looking to capitalize off last season’s late success. The Lady Eagles finished seventh in the ASC Championships in 2011, the highest finish for the team since 2006.
Hull hopes the women’s side can parallel the consistency seen on the men’s side over the past few seasons. The team will include both returners and some fresh faces.
“Having a pretty good nucleus that could be together for more than one year is going to be incredibly important for the women,” said Hull. “We have a good amount of younger runners coming in with the ability to work with some juniors and sophomores, and there’s going to be a good opportunity to compete in the ASC by the time we get to the Conference Championships in October.”
Hull is expecting a big year out of junior Kara Willbanks. Willbanks, a native of Fort Smith, Ark., finished sixth in last fall’s Arkansas D-III Championships and is looking to have even greater success this season.
“We’re in a great place,” said Hull of both of his cross country programs. “I think we’ve built a great tradition in the last four or five years now.”
The teams will open the season on September 1 at the University of Dallas Invitational in Irving, Texas before hosting the Ozarks Invitational in Clarksville on September 29 at 10:00 a.m.
By Emily Black, Sports Information Student Assistant and Director of Social Media