The Baker Orange

2014 Women’s Cross Country Preview

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The 2013 season was one to remember for the women’s cross-country team. Led by senior Lauren Jaqua, the Wildcats ran their way to a conference championship as well as a 17th-place finish in the NAIA championships. This was a senior-heavy team with several senior standouts. The Wildcats finished in first place at the Maple Leaf Invitational, second at the Mule Run, second at the Southern Stampede and first at the Emporia State Invitational. They put themselves in the Top 25 for the majority of the season.

The weeks leading up to the 2014 season have been tough though, following the death of head cross-country coach Zach Kindler. Now Tim Byers will take over as interim head coach for the 2014 season.

RETURNERS

The Wildcats return five of their 2013 runners; four sophomores and one senior. The senior is Kerry Kurta. Kurta was an NAIA scholar athlete in 2013, finished 10th at the HAAC championships, and finished 172nd at the national championships. Kurta will take on the role on the team as the most experienced runner.

Also returning will be four sophomores: Shelby Stephens, Rachael Ash, Jillian Benson, and Amanda Moody. Benson finished the 2013 season with the best pace for any returner starting with a fourth-place finish at the conference championship as well as a 147th place finish at nationals.

“Jillian Benson, Rachael Ash, Shelby Stephens; all sophomores, all returners, should be fighting to be in the top five,” Byers said.

Ash and Stephens also ran at nationals and finished 258th and 275th respectively and Moody was the 21st fastest runner at the HAAC championships. Although there is not a top 100 finisher returning, four runners have the experience of national competition.

DEPARTURES

Losing the backbone of the women’s cross-country program over the past few seasons in Lauren Jaqua will obviously be the biggest challenge. She was a three-time HAAC champion to go along with four HAAC Runner of the Week awards in 2013 alone. Jaqua just seemed to break Baker records in every race that she ran in 2013. Jaqua was also the only runner to crack the top 100 at nationals.

Three other seniors will be missed in 2013: Ashley McBride, who finished sixth in the HAAC championships; Megan Rosa, who was second on the team at nationals with her 125th place finish; and Jenna Stanbrough.

OUTLOOK

A successful season for the women’s cross-country team would be finishing in the top 10 in the majority of their races as well as finding themselves in the top three at the HAAC championships. Finding a way to win while running with six new freshmen faces will be a test in its own. Running in the NAIA Nationals at Rimrock Farm would be a great accomplishment.

“If running fast the first meet doesn’t happen I’m not really concerned because I know where our training is going and how we’re going to end up at the conference and national meets,” Byers said.

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