COLUMBIA — Youth has been one of the main concerns this season for the Missouri cross country team.
Out of 60 runners on the team roster, 47 are freshmen or sophomores, meaning lots of new faces and lots of inexperience. In a press release earlier in the season, coach Joe Lynn said that the team's youth meant that the Tigers would have to focus on continual improvement.
"Having such a young team, we will stress making smart choices daily with the importance of listening and taking care of our bodies," Lynn said.
Yet, as November begins, so do the conference championship races. The first on the schedule is Friday's SEC Championship in Gainesville, Fl. Despite the team's inexperience, Missouri is confident going into Gainesville.
"This weekend I think we will flourish," freshman T.J. Carey said. "It's kind of our coming out party. We kind of got together more at Wisconsin and raced how we wanted to. Then just the way workouts have been going, I think it will be a good weekend for us."
Carey, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week last week, has been a strong finisher for the Tigers, placing in the top four on the team at all races this season.
"If I finish first for the team, that's great," Carey said. "If I finish last for the team, that's great; it doesn't really matter. If we all click on the same day and get going, and just click no matter where everyone finishes, we will be fine."
Kaitlyn Fischer, another freshman who has made a big impact, said that until the Bradley Invitational two weeks ago, she was unsure of how the women stacked up against heavier competition.
"I think that we have proven ourselves as a team," Fischer said. "We are capable of running up there with the big dogs and showing people we are a lot better than they think. I think we have a definite good chance of being in the top 5 for sure (in Gainesville) and I think if we just run together, we are going to do really well."
Back in September, Fischer was also named SEC Freshman of the Week. Fischer has finished first for the women's team in three of the four races she has competed in this season. Fischer said that the key to her success has been relaxing before races.
"In high school I would put pressure on myself and it does not pay off to put too much pressure on yourself," Fischer said. "A little pressure isn't that bad but I tended to put way too much. This year I am just trying to ease into things and focus on finishing at a certain place and not focusing so much where I have to be where I want to be."
Fischer said junior Liz Reida has helped her learn to take that pressure off of herself.
"She (Reida) is just a calm person and she knows what to do and she helps me even though a regular day," Fischer said.
Reida finished first for the women at the Notre Dame Invitational, with Fischer finishing one second behind.
Although younger runners have lead Missouri in most races this season, Carey said that he still looks to the upperclassmen for advice.
"The main thing is that they emphasize, 'Don't get in over your head, take things as they come,'" Carey said.
Carey believes that the tips and mental preparation this season will help the team even more in upcoming seasons.
"I think the experience differently helps and the experience down the road will be great to give the new guys direction in the future," Carey said. "Our team is really young as a whole so pretty much every race is a new learning experience for all of us. As the years go one we will be pretty solid."
Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum.