CHICKASHA – The Drovers are ready to hit the ground running — literally — as USAO welcomes back cross country, debuting Sept. 8.
In its first year, head coach Leandra Johnson said she expects her teams to continue to work hard all throughout the season. She collected a team of six women and five men.
“With it being our first year, our main goal is to get through the season and see where we stand at the end,” Johnson said. “Each time we have a meet or a timed trial, I would like for my runners to cut down on their individual times by at least 30 seconds until we are down to a consistent pace for them as a runner.”
Johnson found three runners straight out of high school to help build the program. The rest of the athletes were already students at USAO, including Brittni Kent and Beatriz Rey, who Johnson said have emerged as leaders on the women’s side.
Kent, a junior from Sapulpa, is a hard worker and fast runner. She will tough to contend with, Johnson said. Kent also is playing her third season of USAO soccer also this fall.
“I’m never seen an athlete work as hard as she does, going from one sport right to the other and in class every day,” Johnson said. “She’s going to be one of our biggest keys.”
Rey, a senior from Texhoma, leads by example, working hard both in the classroom and in practice, Johnson said.
Also competing for the women are former basketball player Tabby Bailey, former soccer player Katie Jones and freshmen Brittney DeWitt and Deborah Park.
Kieran Brennan, a former soccer player from England, Anthony Klipp, a senior from Chickasha, and Aaron Manuel, a junior from Sapulpa, could be crucial leaders on the men’s side.
“Those are the guys I’ll be look for to do something this year,” she said. “I think once we really get into the season, all of our runners will step up.”
Also competing for the men are basketball manager Chisum Lane and freshman Jeffrey Poolaw.
Because it is a new program, Johnson said she had some hiccups recruiting to an unknown program.
As in the other sports at USAO, cross country competes in a tough conference. On the men’s side, two Sooner Athletic Conference schools — Wayland Baptist and Oklahoma Baptist — sit in the NAIA Top 5.
The Drovers have five meets lined up for the regular season. While none are hosted in Chickasha, there are two in the Oklahoma City area and one in Shawnee. The first meet is scheduled for Sept. 8 at the UCO Land Run at Central Oklahoma.
While the sport served USAO proudly in the mid-1990s, it was discontinued after just a few years. The decision was made in 2011 to bring men’s and women’s cross country back to the university, beginning in the fall of 2012.