By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The Stillwater High School cross country team knows the Oklahoma State Cross Country Course like the back of its hand. Yet, traditionally Stillwater struggles in the Cowboy Jamboree.
All that’s about to change according to Stillwater coach Dan Zeroski.
“Normally our kids don’t do well because we’ve been talking about it all week and the kids get too excited and put too much stress on themselves,” Zeroski said. “I think the kids have a lot of confidence, especially on the men’s side. We’ve won a few meets and we come in with a lot of confidence, so that’s will help us. It might be less pressure on us this year because they have more confidence.”
Having confidence is one thing, but going up against some of the best cross country teams not only in Oklahoma, but also some of the surrounding states will prove to be a challenge for Stillwater.
“The main thing we’re looking at is that it’s going to show us where we stand,” Zeroski said. “We’re going to have all the top teams from the east and the west side of the state, so it gives us a really good idea of where we stand in the state.
“We’re also going to have some school from out of the state — places like Nebraska, Colorado and a couple from Springfield, Mo., come in. So we’re going to be running against 30 to 40 teams. It should help us prepare for the state tournament.”
The Pioneers and Lady Pioneers will be battling it out with other teams and trying to weave their way through the hoards of other runners, but Stillwater does have one distinct advantage — they’re used to the alternating terrain that typically eats most runners up.
“We train on the course so it’s not tough for us,” Zeroski said. “Some of our fastest times come on this course. We have some runners who finish around 16 minutes, which is good enough to win state. But the state course is so flat that there really is no advantage and those times drop dramatically.”
One runner expected to make a lot of noise for the Lady Pioneers is senior Chablee Sanders. Sanders led Stillwater by finishing 92nd in last year’s race with a time of 13:05.58.
Now Zeroski is hoping last year’s experience will pay off for Sanders.
“Chablee wants to make the all-state team this year, so this will give her a good idea of where she stands,” Zeroski said. “She’s probably about 20th right now, so she has to beat about five more girls to be considered for all-state.”
Along with Sanders, senior Sam Smith is expected to be one of the leaders for the Pioneers. Smith didn’t get to run in last year’s meet after injuring his leg in a soccer tournament in Dallas. No doubt, he’ll be trying to make up for it in his senior season.
“Sam ran in this as a sophomore, but wasn’t able to run in it last year because of a leg injury,” Zeroski said. “We’re expecting him to be one of the leaders for us this year.”
Whether or not Stillwater can shake off the nerves in the biggest meet of the regular season remains to be seen. One thing is sure, Zeroski said his team is ready to give everyone a run for their money.
“We’re excited about it,” Zeroski said. “It’s really one of three home meets for us — the other being the Stillwater meet and the All-State meet after the season. We want to do well and I think we have enough confidence that it’s going to help us do well.”