CHICKASHA – In just its second season, the cross country team at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma is looking to continue to improve and build on last year’s performance.
“One of the biggest goals is just to be better than we were last year. We are still trying to build, and we are still trying to get strong runners in so we can really begin competing,” said Leandra Johnson, men’s and women’s cross country head coach. “We are looking for improve from last year.”
The Drovers began their season at the UCO Land Run on Sept. 7.
USAO had a cross country team for a few years in the mid-90s before the program was cut. The programs returned in 2012 for its inaugural season.
The Drovers see three returners on the women’s side — Deborah Park, Brittney DeWitt and Katie Jones. DeWitt battled a knee injury last year, but is expected to compete again this year.
“She is going to try to run again this year, so we will see how that goes once she starts running,” she said of DeWitt. “I think Deborah is going to factor in very well as she did last year. I think she is just going to improve each year.”
In their first meet of the season, Park came out as USAO’s top runner, finishing the 5-kilometer race in 22:50.04, two full minutes before the rest of the Drovers.
Joining the young team are six freshmen and a junior. Jones is the only season on the roster.
One of those freshmen is Kylie Parker, from Anadarko, who will be running as well as playing basketball.
“She’s a really good athlete and can run for days,” Johnson said.
Parker was USAO’s second-fastest female at this season’s opening meet. She finished the race in 24:50.46.
As for the men, the school’s two top runners — Kieran Brennan and Jeffrey Poolaw — are returning another season.
“Those were my two top runners, and I expect them to be my two top runners again this season,” Johnson said before the season started.
Also returning is Richard Murray, who doubles as a soccer player and battled an injury last season.
It was Murray who finished the four-mile run at the UCO Land Run the quickest at USAO. He finished in 25:42.11, nearly three minutes faster than his teammates. Poolaw and Brennan finished at 28:33.36 and 29:48.37 respectively.
Joining the team are Elias Poolaw, a freshman from Anadarko, and Robert Dupoint, a sophomore from Lawton, both of whom Johnson said should add to the team. Neither of the runners, however, competed in the Drovers’ opening race.
As in other sports, USAO competes in the Sooner Athletic Conference with stiff competition. Rival Oklahoma Baptist’s rank sixth preseason in the NAIA in both men’s and women’s cross country. Oklahoma City took the No. 15 spot for the men.
The Drovers have five meets scheduled this season, none of which are in Chickasha. However, the team competed in Edmond last weekend and have meets scheduled in Oklahoma City and Shawnee as well.
"I encourage fans to come out and support the cross country team," Johnson said. "Some of the parents came out to our first meet and the team felt really good to have some fans come and show them support. So if you have a free Saturday when we have a meet, please come out and support your USAO Drover Cross Country team."