Cross Country Eyes Nationals After Successful Start / Jace Aymond

Even with COVID-19 causing a sporadic and unusual season for the Mississippi College cross country teams, there were plenty of positives to look at and excitement for this season. In 2020, the men’s team never placed lower than fourth and won the Fast Cats Classic held at Kentucky Wesleyan College. The women had even more success as they also won the Fast Cats Classic as well as the Watson Invitational held at Choctaw Trails. The women took runner up at the conference championship and never placed lower than that in their four meets they competed in. 

Already this season, the men and women’s teams won both meets the Choctaws raced in, and three of the four races saw MC taking the individual winner. The Opener held at Choctaw Trails saw both teams cruise to easy wins, with Gabe Poulin and Cole Benoit splitting the race’s win with a time of 15:24 for the 5K and MC placing nine in the top 12. Jazmin Hernandez was the runner-up with a strong time of 19:10 for the women’s race with seven of the top 11 placing for the Choctaws.

Coach Matthew Reneker is ecstatic for the future after watching the opening meet and the time trials held a week prior, which he said were “the best I’ve seen in my 25 years of coaching. Just to put this into perspective, I have two guys who are national qualifiers, and they went 16:13 [in the 5k] two years ago and we had 10 people run that fast today [at the Opener]. On the women’s side, we’re as deep as we’ve ever been before and we’re going on all cylinders.”

Also speaking on their first meet, Benoit said that the team “was not concerned about times. It was really about the team effort and us going out and running as a pack, and I think we did that excellently today. Team-wise, it was a huge motivator.”

Benoit also spoke on how the team has a different mindset this year, saying, “Whenever we first got on campus, we had some big goals in mind this year. Normally, we just come on campus and are excited to start the season, but this year, we’re ready to compete on a national level.”

The Choctaws’ next meet was the North Alabama Invitational, where both teams dominated yet again. Poulin and Hernandez took the individual crowns and both teams secured the gold, beating multiple Division I teams such as Memphis, North Alabama, Murray State, and Jackson State. In the men’s race, MC placed five in the top 12 runners, along with four in the top seven in the women’s race. 

Hernandez was extremely proud of their performances, saying that “it was one of the best meets the girls have had at MC so far. I’m so excited going forward, especially for conference. We have a lot of good girls that we brought in and I’m so excited to see what they can do and what we’ll do as a team.”

The Choctaws have four more regular season meets on the campuses of Missouri Southern, McNeese State, Louisville, and back in Clinton for the annual Watson Invitational. The conference championships taking place this year on Oct. 23, will be held at Choctaw Trails. Their familiarity with the challenging course is a huge advantage for the Choctaws. 

With an already highly successful season, an experienced and talented roster, and a familiar course for the conference championships, the road to nationals is only becoming clearer as the 2021 season rolls along.

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