By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s been a few years since the Oklahoma State men’s cross country team really had much competition during OSU’s only home event, the Cowboy Jamboree.
Today, however, with the 76th annual Cowboy Jamboree set to start with the junior college division at 8 a.m., the Cowboys will not only have a test in front of the home crowd, but in front of the country.
The reigning champion Cowboys, and the nation’s top-ranked team, will get the chance to set the tone for the season due to the strength of this year’s field, which includes No. 2-ranked Northern Arizona, the last team not wearing OSU uniforms to win the 8,000-meter race at the Oklahoma State cross country course.
“I think it’s good to be tested early and see where you are. I’m thrilled that teams like Northern Arizona, Michigan (ranked No. 28) and Furman (which is receiving votes in the rankings) are coming,” OSU coach Dave Smith said. “Northern Arizona has come to the Jamboree several times in the last few years — they just decided to take a hiatus last year. I think it’s good for the sport and our team. It’s good all the way around to have good competition.”
The tough competition comes just in time for the Cowboys.
OSU has kept its top spot in the rankings despite the top runners having not competed yet this season. That will change on Saturday with All-Americans Tom Farrell, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Joseph Manilafasha expected to take to the course.
“At this time of the year, it’s hard for our most competitive athletes. They’re training very hard without a chance to really go out there and measure themselves, so some of our top guys are really ready to go. They want to go out and run well. None of these guys want to lose to anybody,” Smith said.
While the Cowboys plan to run their full stable of top runners, the Cowgirls will finally be doing the same — sans one runner.
Just like the men’s team, the OSU women’s team has yet to put its top runners on the course. That too, will change this weekend, except senior Natalja Piliusina, who won the national championship last spring in the 1,500-meter, is still a little ways from beginning her lengthy running season, according to Smith.
But that’s not to say the women’s team isn’t much without the national championship runner. OSU’s top runner this weekend will be Monika Juodeskaite, who nearly earned All-American honors at last year’s cross country nationals.
“I think the women have been really competitive and done a great job. I think the races we’ve competed in have gone well, considering we haven’t ran a full-strength team yet,” Smith said. “Just like the guys, we have Monika (Juodeskaite), who is an All-American level athlete and hasn’t gotten to compete yet. She is going to run aggressively this weekend.”