LEVELLAND - The South Plains College men's and women's cross country teams are looking forward to another year of success when they begin their seasons Friday, Sept. 14 at the Texas Tech Invitational held at Meadowbrook Golf Course in Lubbock.
Expectations are high as the Lady Texans enter the season as the defending NJCAA champions in the half-marathon and were fourth in the cross country championships in 2011. The Texans, meanwhile, finished just outside the top 10 at the 2011 cross country championships and third in the overall team competition at the half-marathon championships.
"As always, we want to go to the national meet and have a chance to compete for the national title in both cross country and the half-marathon," said ninth-year head coach Chris Beene.
The women's squad is still very deep, even with the loss of last year's NJCAA Cross Country champion Natoya Goule.
"We have two really solid girls back (from last year's team) and seven really good freshman to go with them," Beene added.
Expected to lead the charge in 2012 for the Lady Texans is Darroneshia Lott. The Pensacola, Fla. native had a fabulous freshman season, following a third place finish at the cross country championships in Hobbs, N.M. with a national championship at the half-marathon in Marietta, Ga.
Lott, who embraces her new role as team leader by pretending that Goule is still here to push her, has also set a high standard for the season.
"I want to try to win it (NJCAA championships)," she says.
In addition to Lott, the Lady Texans also return Michaela Johnson who was the third Lady Texan to cross the line at the half-marathon championships with a ninth place finish.
The Texans also lost last year's individual NJCAA cross country champion in Kemoy Campbell but, unlike the SPC women, do not have a dominant front runner to assume Campbell's role.
"On the guys side we have more of a packed group," said Beene. "I don't know that we have anybody who can be out front like kemoy was, but we have a really solid group from one to nine or ten right now."
Even without a front running star, freshman Marco Arias and Zach Daniel are both confident heading into the season.
"I feel good. We have a lot of guys who are real competitive," said Arias. "We are at the same level, so we all push each other."
Daniel sees success in the team's future.
"I'd be pleased getting top three at nationals as a team, which I think is very possible."
In recent seasons the cross country teams have already began competing with a meet in either late August or early September. This season, however, Beene decided it was in his team's best interest to wait a bit later and open with a mid-September competition.
"It has given us two-and-a-half weeks to really do some of the training things we have not been able to do in the past," he said. "I think we will be a little more fit and hopefully be able to compete well.
"I mainly just want to get them out there and give them an opportunity to compete and see where we are at."
The season opening meet begins at 5:30 p.m. at Meadowbrook Golf Course with the women running first and the men immediately following and is the first of five consecutive weekends of competition with meets at Western Texas College (Snyder, Texas) and New Mexico JC (Hobbs, N.M.) to follow. South Plains will then host back-to-back meets on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13.
The Region 5 Cross Country championships will be held October 27 in El Paso. On Nov. 10 the cross country teams will travel to Ina, Ill. for the NJCAA cross country championships before hosting the NJCAA Half-Marathon Championships in Levelland on Nov. 17 to conclude their season.