By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports wrietr
Eastern New Mexico University’s cross country teams were a bit disappointed with their finishes in last year’s Lone Star Conference meet — fifth for the men, ninth for the women.
They hope to make amends this season, beginning with Friday’s season-opening Buffalo Stampede at Canyon, Texas, hosted by West Texas A&M.
“I think we’re all in pretty good shape,” second-year ENMU coach Joel McMullen said. “I’m very pleased with the way everyone came in this year. I think we’re ready to get out there and run.”
Both teams return five runners from a year ago, although each will be one short of that for now as junior Ricardo Hernandez of Carlsbad for the men (shin splints) and junior Laura Rivera for the women (knee problem) will be sidelined for the time being.
Hernandez was one of the Greyhounds’ top runners a year ago, along with sophomore Jason Garcia and senior Orlando Sanchez. Two Kenyans, sophomore Kennedy Baiywo and redshirt freshman Felix Boit, could be ready to help, McMullen said, along with freshman Derek Heino of Pine Hill and Michael Thomas of Kirtland.
“I’m kind of anxious to get the season started,” said Sanchez, who is from Los Lunas and is in his fourth year in the program. “I’ve been running since the seventh grade, and it comes down to this season.
“This is the first full squad (seven) that we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve come a long way. When I first started, we were just scattered, but now we have a good team bond.”
McMullen said the men’s team has a goal of placing in the top three in the LSC meet and the top eight in regional competition, while the women’s squad is shooting for top five and top 10 finishes, respectively.
“The kids that are back, and the freshmen, are going to pick up the slack,” McMullen said. “We’re hoping for significant improvement from last year.”
For the women, Chavez is the lone senior, but McMullen said freshman Krista Monaghan of Gallup is the team’s No. 1 runner at this point while another freshman, Stacy Salazar of Albuquerque Sandia, should also be in the top four along with Chavez and sophomore Joyce Doan.
Others back from a year ago are juniors Lisa Lopez and Laura Shorty.
“I think we’re going to have a really good team,” said Chavez, whose father, Leroy, and uncle, George, were members of ENMU’s 1973 men’s NAIA national championship cross country team. “This year, we want to be in the top three (in the LSC), or at least the top five.”
Chavez figures that for the Zias to move up, they’ll probably have to beat out teams like Texas A&M-Commerce, Texas A&M-Kingsville, WT and Tarleton State.
McMullen admits the Hounds and Zias are thinking big.
“We’ve set some pretty high goals for ourselves as a team,” he said. “If we get stronger through the year, by the time we get to (the LSC meet) we could achieve those goals.”
He said the WT meet is a good one to start out, setting the stage for bigger meets in the coming weeks at New Mexico and New Mexico State.
“It’s not a high profile meet, but it’s usually good competition,” McMullen said of Friday’s get-together. “It’s a good way for our freshmen to get that first-meet anxiety out of their system.”