by Isabel Marhoun
The University of Tampa men’s and women’s cross-country teams are gearing up for another season with hopes to start the season off on a high note. Last year the Men’s team finished fourth in the SSC and this year going into the season they are ranked as Fourth in the Preseason SSC Poll which puts them in the running as a team to watch out for. As for the women’s team, they won the Conference Championships last season and are selected to win the SSC Women’s Cross-Country Title according to the preseason poll.
Last Season, the women were strong competitors and in-conference champions, but they were unable to make it to NCAA Division II Nationals after the NCAA South Regional meet. In this upcoming season, they are eager to win back to back championships and then go on to compete at nationals. Senior team captain, Lexi Bible, was optimistic about how the team would do when competing in this upcoming season.
“Coming into the season we, as a team, make our goals so we know what to expect. We start small like winning the first couple meets then look to the future and aspired bigger like being back to back conference champions and eventually making it to nationals. With that being said, our toughest competition will be Embry-Riddle. We edged them out last year for the conference title and they caught us at regionals so, we will definitely need to be at our best when we race them,” said Bible when asked about expectations for this season.
As the favored team in the Preseason poll, the SSC title certainly seems attainable and then regionals will be their next step. Although, the team is missing some seniors from last season, the roster still has an impressive lineup. According to sophomore, Cassie Highsmith, the team is looking strong and the runners have a lot of talent.
“My expectations for this season are super high! I think that the team is already looking stronger than ever and that if we remain healthy, we will achieve all of our goals,” said Highsmith.
A spot at nationals sounds like the main goal on the Women’s team radar. Last year they were unable to make it to nationals because Embry-Riddle edged them out. Embry-Riddle placed seventh at the national championships last year and were a strong competitor during the 2018 season. After losing a couple of key seniors, they will be a different team but definitely a challenge for the Spartans to go up against.
“This season is going to be very competitive, especially in the conference and regional meets.” Head coach, Jarrett Slaven, expressed, “Only three teams qualify for nationals out of the regional meet and there are eight teams fighting for three spots. In the conference our major competition will be Florida Southern, Saint Leo, and Embry-Riddle. Our main concern right now is to get the team healthy. We have two of our best runners with a knee and foot injury and two others recovering from being sick. However, if everybody is healthy, we should be very competitive this season.”
Healthy runners with no injuries will be crucial for the women’s team to put their best foot forward. It sounds like they will be facing difficult teams and will need to overcome obstacles as they are competing this season. But, if they keep in good health it will be a step in the right direction for the team to achieve the goals that they have ahead of them.
The men’s team is running into this season ranked fourth in the pre-season poll. Team members have commented that Embry-Riddle and Florida Southern are going to be the teams to beat. Last season the men’s team ranked fourth and are hoping to edge out of this position in the upcoming season.
Junior team captain, Trevor Kattenburg shared, “I think Embry-Riddle and Florida Southern for the conference and regionals meets will be our toughest competition. I expect to compete for a conference championship and compete for a top three spot at regionals.”
Kattenburg expresses high hopes for this upcoming season and is hopeful to make a spot at regionals. Last year, Embry-riddle won at regionals and are coming into this season again with a talented roster. The Spartans will have to train hard in order to get a win going up against Embry-Riddle. Sophomore, Devon Sullivan, also commented about Embry-Riddle being a tough team to beat.
“We want to win conference and try to be top three in regionals so that we can move on to nationals. Our toughest competition will be Embry-Riddle because they won regionals last year and have a talented roster, ” said Sullivan.
Sullivan seems hopeful for what is in store in the coming season and makes it sound like the team will definitely be putting in the work to be in the best shape possible this upcoming season. They will be keeping an eye out for Embry Riddle who is ranked to come in first in the SSC pre-season poll.
Next, the men’s and women’s cross country teams will compete on Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville, FL..
Isabel Marhoun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org