Striding to the Finish By: Damon Wright

The fall sports for Mississippi College are beginning to wrap up, and these teams are no strangers to finishing strong. The Choctaw football team beat the Shorter Hawks on a late-game pick six, the men’s soccer team has come from a 2-0 deficit to beat out rival Delta State, and the women’s soccer team has been perfect so far in GSC play. The men’s and women’s cross-country teams are no different in this regard as they gear up for the Gulf South Conference, which will take place on Saturday, Nov. 3.

The men’s cross-country team finished the season with an overall team win at the MC Division II Invitational on Oct. 20. The Choctaws have seen much improvement in the 2018 season. The team has come together and has proven that they are a force to be reckoned with in the conference.

From young runners such as 4-time GSC freshmen of the week, Evan Del Rio, to Staples to cross-country team members such as Jordan Pritchard, the Choctaws have made huge strides in the program. From the very beginning of the season, the team could see that this would be a special season. “This season has been great; just starting off the year we did a little time trial. The top eight guys ran faster than the fastest guy last year, and it was awesome to see that,” said Pritchard.

Another special moment in the year for the Choctaws came at the Greater Louisville Classic where the team finished in second place. “We placed second overall at the Louisville meet this year, and that was the big marquee meet that we were trying to get after this year, and there was a lot of great competition… it was a great team effort, and it was really special because we went out there and accomplished a lot of great things; we ran the fastest team time we ever had, and it was just really special,” said Pritchard, as he was boasting a baseball bat that is awarded to the runner up of the meet.

The women’s cross-country team has had a little bit of a different start due to the 2018 team being a relatively new and young team. “It has been a different season for us because we have three sophomores and a transfer sophomore, and then we have seven freshmen, so it has been a really young team. It has been a growing year,” says sophomore runner, Madeline Campbell.

Though the Choctaws are young and boast a lot of newcomers, that does not change the fact that they are ready for the conference championship. “There is a little bit of nervousness going into the meet but I think that everyone is pretty encouraged and is really hoping to step up and make each other proud … Alabama Huntsville, Union, West Florida, and Lee are some teams that we have to watch out for, but I know we will be ready,” says Campbell.

Assistant coach Matthew Reneker has both the men’s and women’s teams striving to achieve major goals, which have set the foundation for the 2018 cross country season: “It is a growth mindset; that is what we talked about in our goalsetting sessions at the beginning of the year. We are really happy with the leadership of the team and that they keep the goals at the forefront of every single practice and every single week… what has been indicative of our success has been taking each practice and meet one at a time … I have seen the leaders talking to the underclassmen about what was done well and what can be improved, and I think that is why we are having exceptional seasons on both the men’s and women’s side,” said Reneker.

Mentality is the name of the game when it comes to any sport, and the Choctaws boast a lot of mental fortitude and that has shown inside results. “Our sport is done to exhaustion every single season. There is no way to get around it, grinding out mileage, and people are falling down at the end of every race. I have been impressed with the mindset of the freshmen coming from a high school program to fighting for a spot at a college. There is a psychology to that, and the people on this team are learning the mental resiliency that it takes to be a distance runner,” says Reneker.

The Choctaws will have stout competition to overcome if they are hoping to bring home a GSC title. Reneker highlighted some of the areas of improvement for both teams. “On the women’s side, a controlled confidence is the thing we have been working on. We have a lot of perfectionists and they need to realize that not everything is going to go perfectly, and they need to learn how to be resilient in any situation … on the men’s side, it is learning how to communicate with each other, along with using a team dynamic and learning how to be successful at the regional and national level,” said Reneker.

Though there are areas of improvement, the excitement buzzing around the team is contagious and brings life to both the men’s and women’s teams. “There is an excitement, we have been stringing together really good work outs and then those work outs turn into really good races, and that will help us realize that we do not need to do anything special. We just need to perform how we have been and do what we always have done. There is no need to overhype the situation,” said Reneker.

This year for the 2018 cross-country teams has been one to remember and both the men’s

and women’s teams look to put an exclamation point on their seasons with a great finish in the conference meet. Reneker recognized that this is a special group of athletes, and they will be remembered as one of the most impactful teams to come through Mississippi College. “Trailblazing is a good way to describe these teams; we are trying to do something in this conference that is new to a lot of people. We have been successful, but being a division II national qualifying team has not happened in the recent past … we are trying to make a pathway and show that it can be done and the steps necessary to achieve greatness… these teams will be seen as the genesis and the beginning of the new norm, which is success at all levels. I hope that when people see the picture of the 2018 teams, they will appreciate that this is the team that showed those results and showed that goals can be achieved,” said Reneker.

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