By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma State cross country coach Dave Smith won’t be giving the Cowgirls any fancy speeches or pep talks before they take to the course for the NCAA Midwest Regional Friday in Springfield, Mo. He’d rather save his breath for the last legs of the race.
The Cowgirls already knew what was at stake as soon as the regionals were announced — beat Minnesota and finish second, go on to the national meet in Louisville, Ky. Finish third and their season is over.
It’s a sight all too familiar for Smith and the Cowgirls, who will be looking for their third straight trip to nationals.
“The women are in a real battle with Minnesota for the second best team in the regionals,” Smith said. “I think if we’re second, we go to nationals and if we’re not, we probably don’t. It’s the same scenario we’ve been in the last two years. We’ve kind of got it done at the regional meet the last couple of years, and I think we’re a better team this year than we’ve been in either of those years. Hopefully we can get out there and take care of business and just run the way we can, we’ll have a good shot to advance.”
This may not be the first rodeo for the Cowgirls when it comes to a pressure-packed meet, but that doesn’t mean that the pressure is not there.
“There’s a lot of pressure doing it the way we do it,” Smith said. “We don’t go chase at-large points during the year, which means when we get to the regional meet, we’ve got to be first or second. It’s an all or none, on that day, get the job done or don’t.
“That’s a high-pressure situation, but we’ve done it that way for three years. Most of the women on the team have been on these two teams. They’re used to it now. It’s not such a high-stress situation for them any more. They know that they’re prepared, they know they’ve run well and they know they’re ready for what they need to get done on Friday.”
Two Cowgirls that have been preparing for the meet since returning from the Big 12 Championships are junior Natalja Piliusina and sophomore Monika Juodeskaite. Smith expects both runners to finish in the top 5. But it’s the six behind them that could determine whether or not the Cowgirls return to nationals — including seniors Jackie Campos and Kate Kujawa, who are out to make sure that Friday isn’t their last race.
“We have Natalja and Monika, who I think can both run in the top 5 in the region,” Smith said. “We need them to do that to give us a chance. Then we have a group of five or six women behind them that need to get themselves in the top 15 or 20. If we can do that, we’re going to advance. It’s hard to say which one is going to be the top girl of that group. At different races it’s looked like Jackie Campos, Kate Kujawa, Victoria Hanna or Caileigh Glenn. Each of them over the last couple of years has been the best of the group at some point.”
The pressure may be on the Cowgirls to finish in second in the regional meet, but the same can’t be said for the Cowboys, who are currently No. 1 in the nation and are coming off their fifth straight Big 12 championship.
In fact with a spot in the national meet already pretty much locked up, Smith said he plans to rest most of his best runners in an effort to save them for nationals eight days later.
“We’re more interested in just advancing to the national championships, coming in as healthy and ready to go as we can eight days from now,” Smith said. “We’re going to go out and run to qualify, but I don’t think the regional victory is as important as kind of getting to the national meet.
“We’re going to rest a couple of guys. A couple of our guys in our top 5 won’t even race because it will give them a better shot to run at nationals. Sometimes it can be a tall task to run two hard 10Ks in eight days like that.”