The South Plains College cross country program will begin a new era under first-year head coach Erik Vance on Friday when it travels to Abilene, Texas for the Bill Libby Cross Country Invitational on the campus of McMurry University.
Coach Vance will look to continue the winning traditions that the South Plains College cross country program has been accustomed to over the years, and will be dependent upon veteran long distance coach Frank Barker. 2016 marks Barker's 51st year of coaching long distance runners in some capacity, and will be looked upon once again to establish a group of athletes that will boast the South Plains College' colors proudly come the national meet.
"This is my 51st year, and it's been a great road," Barker said. "I've really been anticipating this season, and we have a bunch of young kids in, and I think we're going to be pretty solid."
The Texans went on to finish third at nationals a season ago, and will be without Hassan Abdi and Kelvin Keter this season. Abdi finished third at nationals a year ago, and was the 2015 Half Marathon National Champion, who now runs for Oklahoma State University. Keter would place seventh for the Texans at nationals last season, and now competes for Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
"We have the vast majority of our team back," Vance said. "We lost Hassan Abdi and Kelvin Keter, who were two big contributors for us and scored a lot of points. Losing those two hurts, but, we brought Nicholas Rotich back, who was second place in the steeple last year at the national meet, and also made the finals in the 1500 and 5K. He was also our number two or number three cross country runner last year, and we expect him to be a leader for our team.
"We have our four American kids that have comeback, who were really big contributors for us last year. Jose Silva, Deric Martinez, Omero Rodriguez and Connor Hughes. Those guys you can tell put in the work over the summer and look really good, and they'll be solid on the men's side."
The South Plains College Lady Texans will also have a plethora of new faces on the roster in 2016, and will look to make a strong push this season after finishing 14th at the national meet last season. Though young and lacking experience at the collegiate level to this point, obviously, coach Barker expects them to progress as the season moves forward, and make a strong showing come nationals.
"As far as the ladies actually, we're not bringing anybody back, because they all either graduated or left," Barker said. "We do have little Poro (Gahekave) back, who ran track for us last spring, but not cross country for us last fall. So she is the only one who has any kind of experience, and all the rest of them are freshmen.
"I think they're going to be really impactful, and I think people will look at them and say, 'man, where did you get those kids, they're pretty good.'"
Following Friday's meet in Abilene, the Texans and Lady Texans will continue their season next week when they travel to Lubbock for the Texas Tech Invitational on Thursday, September, 8. Coach Vance and Coach Barker sat down with Michael Wiiest of KLVT radio in Levelland to discuss the upcoming season. That video can be seen at the link below.