Stephens, Columbia College cross country teams prepare for Mule Run

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | 9:17 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Stephens College cross country program has already seen improvement leading up to its opening race Saturday in Warrensberg. 

"I can definitely tell over the weeks that they are getting better," coach Travis Cook said. "You can tell just by watching them run and seeing their paces increasing. The longevity of their runs is increasing. I'm pretty excited to see how that translates into times."

Cook, a first-year coach, believes that his team of six runners motivates each other.

"It has been a great thing for me, especially when I am starting off coaching," Cook said."

Cook holds practice every morning at 6 a.m., however, if an athlete cannot attend, he gives them the workout to complete on their own at a different time.

"When you are trying to manage seven schedules sometimes finding a common time isn't going to work out," Cook said. "Luckily, we do have between four to five girls that show up every morning at 6 o'clock and workout together."

Cook attributes the progression of the team to the motivation of the athletes, even when they cannot attend practice.

"You can tell that the girls, if they are not able to come to morning practice, they are going put in the work," Cook said. "Most times, they are going to put in more work than I tell them anyway."

Senior captain Dani Kelley believes that the motivation and seniority of the team will help propel it during the season. The team consists of one freshman, two juniors and three seniors.

"I just feel like I am more focused," Kelley said. "I feel like I have more experience to put into the season. I know where to look for resources. I know what I have to do in order to progress to the next level."

As a team, Cook and the athletes have set performance goals for themselves, focusing on improving upon past races.

"We just want to beat last year's times," Kelley said. "It has always been the goal. It has always been the dream. Of course, we would love to win nationals, but I think that is everybody's goal."

Although Cook has not done any time trials, Kelley believes that the improvement will show through personal times. 

"My softer goals are to just keep pushing hard and always PR (personal record)," Kelley said. "If I do PR, that's all that I can ask for myself. If I do make it to nationals, it is just a cherry on top of a great season."

With the idea of improving from last year, Cook is holding open tryouts Thursday in hopes that he can add more motivated athletes to his roster.

"With a sport like cross country, it tends to attract a highly motivated crowd," Cook said. "The more we have come out, the more fun practices can be."

The Stephens and Columbia College women will compete Saturday at the Mule Run in a 4-kilometer race. The Columbia College men will also compete, running 6.4k. The women's race begins at 9:25 a.m. followed by the men's race at approximately 10:15 a.m. Both races are at the Keth Memorial Golf Course in Warrensburg.

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