Improvement is the main goal for the Missouri cross country teams; they seek improvement over last season and from race to race.
“From now until the middle to late part of October, we’re looking to get better each week,” assistant coach Rebecca Wilmes said. “We’ve set up our season, our schedule to plan time to go build (confidence).”
Learning one another’s styles and learning to race together is part of that improvement.
“The early meets are just a foundation,” sophomore Amanda Bales said. “We can learn what our strengths and weaknesses are and to know what they need from you in order to improve themselves.”
The Tigers begin their season Saturday with the Missouri Cross Country Challenge at A.L. Gustin Golf Course. The women’s race begins at 10 a.m., and the men start at 10:30.
Both Missouri teams will compete against Illinois, Bradley and Southeast Missouri State. Southern Illinois-Carbondale also will compete in the women’s race.
Illinois is expected to be the main threat in both races.
“Illinois has a very good squad, the men in particular,” coach Jared Wilmes said. “They finished third in our regional last year and should be strong again.”
The MU women’s team finished second in the Big 12 Conference last season. The Tigers also won the Midwest Regional and placed 16th at the national meet.
They return the top two runners from last season in sophomores Bales and Valerie Lauver, both of whom were named All-Midwest Region. Senior Katherine Bonugli, also an All-Midwest Region runner last season, and junior Serena Ramsey also return.
Redshirt freshman Ashley Patton, sophomore Kristen Hanson and junior Jill Peterson have been impressive in workouts and could help the team close the gap in its times.
“We’re really working to decrease our one through five and one through seven spread,” Rebecca Wilmes said.
“If you have one or two front-runners, that’s good.
“But you have to get three, four, five, six and seven in fast behind them and that’s something we can improve on from last year.”
The men’s team improved nine spots from 2001 to finish ninth at the regional meet last year. The Tigers return six of the top seven runners and expect more improvement.
“We had a tremendous summer training,” Jared Wilmes said. “We had a pretty young team last year. Most stayed and trained together this summer and they’ve grown a lot, not just physically but as a team.”
The Tigers also see that hard work put in this summer paying off.
“We just had a whole year to train together, to grow and mature as runners,” sophomore Tim Ross said.
Senior Ryan Hampton returns to lead the Tigers after being named All-Big 12 and All-Midwest Region a year ago.
Sophomores Ross, Chase Hall, Matt Noonan and junior Josh Davis also return after earning All-Big 12 honors in track.