By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The image still lingers for the Oklahoma State men’s cross country team.
Having to watch Wisconsin celebrate with the national championship, while the Cowboys hopes for a third-straight title ended with a runner-up finish.
But it’s that image that the top-ranked Cowboy runners will use as extra motivation today when they attempt to return to the top of Division I at the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky.
“I think that was huge,” OSU cross country coach Dave Smith said. “... It was disappointing and they don’t want to be back there again. It really brought some humility back to our program a little bit and got us back to doing the things we did before we won. Guys worked harder over the summer, they did things that we needed to do and we’re a much different team than we were this time last year.”
The Cowboys dodged a bullet at the regional, a week ago. The top-ranked team in the country had to wait until the final tally was announced to find out they had tied for first with Bedlam rival Oklahoma to narrowly make the NCAA field.
“We got away with one, honestly. We rested two guys there and thought we could get through the region without them running and almost rested a third — which would have been a disaster, because we wouldn’t have made it,” Smith said. “I think we’ve got the best team in the country and to not make it would have been inexcusable. So we all learned a lesson.”
Fortunately for the Cowboys, they have some solid upperclassmen leading the way in runners like Shadrack Kipchirchir, Girma Mecheso and Tom Farrell.
“Our teams have been really good at staying poised and calm and collected during races and running with a lot of confidence,” Smith said. “It’s up to those guys to kind of put that attitude on the rest of the team. I think the younger guys ... need those upperclassmen who have been there, been through it and know what it’s all about to kind of calm the waters a little bit because the national race is really high intensity with 250 runners coming through the halfway point in about a 15-second spread.
“It’s just chaotic. And I think if you’re not ready for it and you don't have the senior leadership of those upperclassmen to lead you through it ... then it can be a really stressful situation.”
That leadership will be key when it comes to the game plan on the course, as well. Smith said the course is more narrow and has tighter turns than the course in Terre Haute, Ind., where the national race had been run nine of the last 10 years.
“Terre Haute is a wide open course with big, sweeping turns and it’s never really a factor when trying to pass people or move up in the pack,” Smith said. “The course we are going to is much more narrow and it has sharp, 180-degree turns in several places throughout the course.
“So our typical strategy is to run conservatively, come from behind and try to move up throughout the course of the race. I think that changes a little bit now, because if you’re too far back in this race it’s hard to pass when you’re constantly turning corners and the pathway is narrow and there are not a lot of ways to get around people.”
While the men are eyeing a return to glory, the women’s cross country team is simply looking to see progress from the past two years racing at the national meet.
“We’re just trying to improve. I think we’re still in the growing stages,” Smith said. “We were 17th two years ago and 30th last year. We hope we’re better than those finishes. I hope we’re in the top 15. I think if the stars really come together for us and we could have perfect days, then we could be in the top 10. That would take a near perfect day.”
The women’s race will begin at 11 a.m., followed by the men’s race at 12:15 p.m. A live webcast of the championships will be broadcast on NCAA.com.