The North Texas cross-country team kicks off the 2008 season this weekend with its first meet of the year as they host the 31st UNT Invitational, the longest running athletic event the university has ever hosted. The 2008 season comes with high expectations, led by the reigning Freshman of the Year Patrick Strong, who helped guide the men’s team to a second place finish at the Sun Belt Conference Championship last season. His time of 25:25 in the 8k race tied for the seventh best time in school history. Despite his early success Strong has his eyes set on accomplishing even more this season.
“Last year at regionals I had a horrible race and I was really ticked about it,” he said. “I had come down with the flu and was pretty sick. This year I just want to make sure I’m not in that position again so I’m doing everything the coaches are telling me.”
One of those things that cross country head coach Robert Vaughan is stressing to the New Zealand native is to lighten his work load early in the season, which could happen in the first meet. “What we’re going to hope from with Patrick is that he finishes stronger than last year,” Vaughan said. “He had the flu and kind of broke down at the wrong point of the season. We’re not really concerned about the beginning of the season with him, we need him for the stretch run.”
Aside from Strong, the men’s team is basically the same as last year, however they did lose a significant piece when Frank Ngeno graduated. Ngeno finished ninth at the SBC and along with Strong was named to the all-conference team.
Vaughan is hoping that sophomore Dallas Baptist transfer Garrett Sage can perhaps fill the shoes of Ngeno. Although he may not be in top shape to start the season, Vaughan stressed that Sage has the potential to be equal to Frank once the season gets rolling. Billy Giano (Sr., Midland, TX) will be the lone senior of the six runners. Junior Brandon Cooper (Jr., Lewisville, TX), Joey Manning (So., Mansfield, TX) and Matt Peters (Jr., Denton, Texas) round out the roster.
“On the men’s side we’ll just have to wait and see what everyone else does in the conference,” Vaughan said. “One or two recruits can turn a team around. South Alabama was down last year but the year before they were national champs. You never know till the season starts, illnesses and injuries take their toll, you just never know till they shoot the gun.”
The North Texas women welcome seven newcomers this season, hoping to improve on a sixth place finish at the SBC last year.
Jessica Torres (Jr., Decatur, TX) was the top finisher for the Mean Green at last year’s Sun Belt Conference Championship, and will enter the season as one of the top runners. Vaughan believes that redshirt sophomore Calene Mayfield, who comes over from TCU, can be a 10k runner along with sophomore Sallie Anderson (So., Mansfield, TX).
“We have more women than we did last year,” Vaughan said. “We didn’t lose anyone from last year. We’ll be stronger than last year. I don’t know if we’ll be able to compete for the conference but you just never know.”
Rounding out the women’s roster will be Alex Sherwin (Sr., Lewisville, TX), Tara Piles (So., Allen, TX), Phanice Orora (Jr., Nairobi, Kenya), Amanda Kean (RS/So., Warren, TX), Britni Doolie (So., College Station, TX), Sarah Deitz (Fr., Prosper, TX) and Amy Alcala (Fr., Ennis, TX).
Aside from the North Texas Invitational, North Texas will also host the Ken Garland Invitational on Sept. 27 and travel to the Sam Houston State Invitational in Huntsville, TX on Oct. 18. The Sun Belt Conference Championship will be Nov. 1 in Bowling Green, KY.