Saturday, Oct. 17 marked the first and only home cross country meet of the season at the Watson Invitational for the MC men’s and women’s cross country teams. The Lady Choctaws won their second straight event while the men’s team finished second.
Individually on the women’s side, redshirt sophomore Jazmin Hernandez claimed her second straight individual title as she set the school record 5K time as she almost broke the 18-minute mark with a time of 18:01. Madeline Campbell (4th), Kathy Hammond (5th), McKenzie Hargrove (6th), and Emma Langley (7th) all also finished inside the top seven. Emily Berry finished in 14th place.
On the men’s side, they were unable to pick up their second straight team win as they were topped only by Division I Louisiana Tech. Individually, Evan Del Rio was the Choctaws’ top finisher as he placed 3rd. Gabe Poulin finished 7th, Brock Kelly finished 13th, Alec Beers finished 14th, Caleb Hall finished 18th, and Jake Russell finished 20th.
The Watson Invitational was also the first race at the newly renovated, and newly dedicated (which happened on race day), Robert and Rebecca Watson Choctaw Trails. It is a difficult course, but Jazmin Hernandez believes her team responded well. “I think everyone did great today. This is a really hard course, and I’m just proud of my team because they killed it. Honestly, that last part of the course is rough, but we pushed through it, and we [the women’s team] managed to get first.”
Even with the high finishes, head coach Matthew Reneker still believes that his teams have room for improvement. “I think it’s a tale of two races. The women were confident and assertive and they went right to the front and dictated what the paces were going to be. Then they won those individual matchups. Over the last kilometer, our fitness showed. On the guys’ side, I think that they were hesitant and they were unsure of themselves. They still ran really well, but our goal is to beat people, not just run fast times. I think the guys have great leadership and they’re going to figure that out and that the girls are going to continue to roll.”
Up next for the Choctaws is the GSC championship meet in Huntsville on Saturday, Oct. 31. Coach Reneker has high expectations for his teams heading into the conference championship meet. “Now we have our eyes focused on the conference championships. We’re looking for a top two finish, that’s definitely what our goals are. We [the women’s team] beat a really good team in Union today, but you’re only as good as your last race and that last race is already behind us. Now we’re looking forward.” He also mentioned that strategy and gameplan are going to be important heading into the meet, adding, “On the women’s side, our goal was to see if we could mark Lee [GSC foe and perennial cross country powerhouse Lee University] and find out where they are. They ran a really good race yesterday, but I think that there are some weaknesses that we can try to exploit. The girls are very confident today, and I think that we can gameplan for a very confident strategy. On the guys’ side, our goal is to be in the top three of the conference. We have a lot of things that we need to work on, about being assertive and running the best race we can. So we’re going to come up with some practices that are going to allow them to test their metal and let them dig deep and go to the well.”
The GSC meet marks the last scheduled meet of the season for the Choctaws since there will be no national championships due to COVID-19.