Missouri cross country teams sweep inaugural Gans Creek Classic

The Tigers debuted their new racing facility with two team titles on a day of firsts.

It was a day of firsts on Friday for the Missouri cross country team at the inaugural Gans Creek Classic.

On the first day of racing at the school’s first dedicated cross country course, both the men’s and women’s teams finished first in scoring while redshirt senior Thomas George was the first male runner across the finish line.

George’s individual victory capped off a somewhat unexpected victory for the men’s team. Even without senior Kieran Wood, who generally keeps pace with George but was a precautionary scratch due to glute problems, Missouri was able to top Texas A&M by a narrow two points.

That result surprised some of the team.

“Not having Kieran this week, we thought it was going to be tough,” coach Marc Burns said.

Due to the heat and added responsibility, George’s strategy changed to focus on the second half of the 8-kilometer course.

“I was three kilometers in and I was like, ‘I can win this,’” George said. “I felt super smooth … it felt very easy and I was looking around like, these guys appear to be working a bit more hard than I am.”

Per Burns’ advice, George stayed within a lead pack of about 20 runners for the beginning race, then used a late downhill to gain separation and ultimately win with a time of 24:49.

“We talked about being patient and I thought he did a great job of just hanging in the front pack, letting other people press the pace,” Burns said.

The women’s team earned their victory by a more comfortable 14-point margin. Six of the Tigers’ runners finished in the top 13 on the 6-kilometer course.

Junior Sarah Chapman was Missouri’s top finisher, coming in third overall with a time of 21:27. Freshman Jenna Schwartz, who received SEC Freshman of the Week honors earlier in the season, drew Burns’ praise after finishing sixth overall.

“Schwartz is the one who’s really stepped up,” Burns said. “I love the way she races, I love that she comes on strong in the second half of races … she made up a lot of ground.”

Racing — and winning — without some of their top runners, Burns was impressed by the women’s squad’s team title.

“If we can get Tori [Findley] and Mikayla [Reed] back to what they’re capable of doing, that’s a heck of team,” he said. “I think we’ll end up going to championship season with eight to ten women that could all factor into the scoring … that’s usually the recipe for a great team.”

Missouri’s teams now enter a three-week break from racing, an opportunity for a brief focus on recovery rather than performance.

“That’s something we haven’t had since the calendar was this way seven or eight years ago,” Burns said. “We’re going to let some things heal up early in the week, get some easy running under our belts.”

George was named SEC Men’s Runner of the Week for the second time in his career following his victory.

Schwartz was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time this season.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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