Missouri cross-country looks for top five finishes at SEC Championship

The team will face a tough field and rely on improvements from their scoring runners.

Missouri cross-country will line up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the final race of the season on Oct. 30 at the Southeastern Conference Championship.

The meet will feature nationally top-ranked Arkansas and Mississippi. Coach Marc Burns predicts that these two teams will take the lead in both the men’s and women’s races.

“I think on the men’s side, there’s two teams out front,” Burns said. “It's Arkansas and Ole Miss, and they’ve kind of separated themselves from the rest of the field. … On the women’s side, Arkansas is a big favorite.”

The men will contend with Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia for a top three spot.

“I think our men could finish anywhere from third to sixth or seventh depending on the day,” Burns said. “We certainly hope that it’s on the upper end of that, but that’ll be determined by how well we respond and race on Friday.”

Redshirt senior Kieran Wood will likely lead the pack. Wood was sidelined with an injury last year, but has recovered and finished in the top five in the first two races of the season, finishing second and first out of Missouri’s runners.

On the women’s side, senior Sarah Chapman led the team in both races this season with second and first place finishes, and she was followed by sophomore Ginger Murnieks.

“Ginger Murnieks isn’t too far behind on the women’s side, so I think we should have some good representation of Tigers up toward the front,” Burns said. “And then, really, the key for our women between Sarah and Ginger doing the job up front is how well we do three-four-five on that day.”

Burns also expects a strong showing from junior Reilly Revord at the meet.

“I’m excited about what she’s been doing training-wise, and her progression has been fantastic, so we’re really excited to see how she responds and gets in there and battles,” Burns said. “She’s a super great competitor, and I know she likes big stages. I think she’ll be ready to go this weekend.”

Revord, like Wood, struggled with injury prior to this season. A stress reaction in her hip disrupted her training, but she feels that this season has put her back on track.

“I feel like it’s taken me a bit longer to get back to where I want to be,” Revord said. “This summer was a bit rougher in training for me, but I came back, and I feel like I’ve just grown this season, and I’m kind of where I want to be a bit more. I’m really looking forward to SECs, really looking forward to having, hopefully, my best race of the season so far.”

The women’s team sits at No. 13 on the national rankings. They will face No. 11 Kentucky and No. 14 Tennessee. The team has already raced against some of their SEC competition this season, including Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.

“Alabama’s been running really well; they have a really strong front three. I think they’ll be in the mix, certainly for third and fourth,” Burns said. “Kentucky beat us at Vandy, and they’re continuing to run well. Florida and Tennessee are always dangerous, so we’ve got our hands full on the women’s side. I think if we can battle hard and break into the top five, we’re going to feel really good about what we did.”

The SEC field is deep, with five opposing teams on the women’s side and four on the men’s side ranking in the top fifteen nationally. However, the Tigers have their own depth on their side.

“On the men’s side you go Kieran [Wood], William [Sinclair], Martin [Prodanov], Marquette Wilhite has been running really well, and then you bring in a whole slew of guys that can be our fifth,” Burns said. “Any of them could be in our top five, and I think that gives us a lot of strength on the men’s side to give us good depth like that, and we’re looking forward to showcasing that depth this weekend.”

The question is whether they will be able to harness their depth for the best possible race outcome on Friday.

At the Gans Creek Classic, seven out of the top 10 Missouri runners to finish were freshmen. Wood, the oldest runner on the men’s team to compete on Friday, views this season as a learning experience for the young team.

“The guys that are travelling to SECs this year are really young,” Wood said. “There are seven freshmen that I think are travelling, so they’re going to be here for a while. I want them to learn from me, from Martin, from Marquette, and come back next year and have a better performance than we had this year.”

Last year, the team competed in six meets, while this year they will only race in four, including the intrasquad Missouri XC Invitational. With fewer and smaller races this season, the team can’t predict their outcome as easily as in previous years.

“I feel like individually it’s hard to tell as well because all of our races have been kind of small, and it’s just kind of hard to pinpoint where you’re going to be on a larger scale during a race,” Revord said. “So individually I just want to run well and I just want to contribute points for my team.”

Despite the uncertainty of this season, the runners are enthusiastic about racing and eager to see how they will perform.

“I just want to have fun,” Wood said. “My primary goal is to get out there, run hard, and enjoy myself and see what results happen.”

The team will fly south through the rain Oct. 28, but the forecast predicts sunny, cool weather on race day, giving the team optimal conditions to achieve their goals for their concluding performance.

“Last year our women were third, our men were seventh and certainly the mission of both our programs is to strive to be in the top three every year,” Coach Burns said. “I think this year if we can battle for a top five spot on both sides, I’d feel pretty good about it.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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