COLUMBIA — Kaitie Vanatta has only been at MU since the beginning of this school year, but she's already gone a long way toward establishing herself as a cornerstone of the Missouri women's cross-country program.
With her 11th-place finish Saturday in the Big 12 Conference meet on a soggy A.L. Gustin Golf Course, Vanatta joined former Missouri standout Valerie Lauver as the only other Missouri freshman on the women's side to earn All-Big 12 Conference honors, which are awarded to the top 15 finishers in the race. Tim Ross was the most recent Tiger to be named all-conference in 2006.
"I didn't think I'd be out here a year ago," a mud-splattered Vantta said after Saturday's race. "You can't really comprehend it sometimes."
Vanatta faced injuries and a medical condition in her legs during the last two years of high school that put her cross-country future in doubt. But those days are behind her. As one of Missouri's strongest runners all season and it's top finisher on Saturday, it's safe to say Vanatta made the right decision in pursuing collegiate athletics.
"I'm really excited to be running with all of these women. I've found a way to enjoy running again, especially racing," Vanatta said.
"She ran such a smart race, and it's great to have a true freshman that runs like that," Missouri coach Jared Wilmes said. "It's a big deal to have a true freshman be all-conference."
Following Vanatta were fellow freshman Bailey Belvis, who finished 40th, and senior Ellen Ries, who finished 46th. The Tigers women's team placed ninth overall with 212 points. Texas Tech won for the second straight year with 38 points.
"I think we all did the best we could today, but we wanted to place a little higher. Nobody has to apologize for their race," Vanatta said.
Wilmes said his women's team didn't race as well as they have in other meets this season, but he still sees encouraging signs for the future.
"I think we could have done better," Wilmes said. "We beat Kansas earlier in the year, and Kaitie obviously ran really well, but as a group we're not where we want to be. The most important thing is we're making strides and getting better."
Men's team falls short of expectations
The Missouri men's cross-country team was hoping to finish in the top half of the Big 12 Conference meet, but after falling behind early in the race, the Tigers were unable to make up enough ground to realize their goal and finished eighth.
Junior Dan Quigley was Missouri's top runner, finishing 29th in 25:51.87 over the 8K course.
"It's not what we're looking for," a subdued Quigley said after the race. "The good thing is we've got another race left, and we've got a young team. It's another chance for us."
Junior Phillip King was 43rd followed by junior Michael Pandolfo, who finished 44th.
Missouri competed on the A.L. Gustin course earlier this year at the Missouri Cross-Country Invitational, but Wilmes doesn't think the experience gave his team a leg up in Saturday's race.
"I don't think it helped us. We haven't raced all that well here in the past," Wilmes said. "We have to continue to get better."
Oklahoma State was the top men's team Saturday, grabbing all of the top four spots for their second consecutive victory in the Big 12 meet. Missouri finished eighth.
"We all know the names of everybody out there," Missouri junior Phillip King said. "When you face teams like Colorado and Oklahoma State, we know they're going to be a challenge."
The Tigers next race will be the NCAA Regional Championships on Nov. 14.