– After losing six runners, including its top three, the East Central University men’s cross country program has an uphill climb in 2012.
The Tigers are coming off an 11th-place finish at the NCAA Division II national meet, a second-place finish at the NCAA Division II South Central Regional and a Great American Conference Championship.
But gone are last year’s top three Tigers in All-American Armando Saldivar, Daniel Kiptoo and Ezekiel Kissorio. Saldivar and Kiptoo have used up their eligibility and Kissorio transferred to Division I Texas Tech.
“I think we can be good. We just won’t be as deep as last year,” said ECU head coach Steve Sawyer. “We return two of our top five and our goal is to win conference again.”
The Tigers welcome back junior Cale Eidson and senior Austin Christian, but should also get a huge boost from junior college transfer Viktors Slesarenoks, a native of Latvia.
At Cloud County Community College, Slesarenoks finished third in the nation in the 10k and runner-up in the half-marathon at junior college nationals. Adding to his list of impressive credentials, Slesarenoks also set an amateur national record in the half-marathon for the country of Latvia.
“He hasn’t run since January due to injury, but if he gets back healthy he could be our No. 1 runner. His times have been pretty equal to Armando,” Sawyer said.
As a sophomore, Eidson finished fifth in last fall’s GAC Championships to garner all-conference honors and ended up 23rd at regionals.
“He will die running if he has to. This year, I feel he can be an All-American type runner, conference champion and place in the top five of regionals,” said Sawyer.
Christian, a senior, was one of the Tigers’ top five runners at nationals last year. He finished 32nd at regionals and picked up an all-conference award after finishing eighth in the GAC meet.
“Austin is really tough and really strong. He has never beaten Cale, but will be right there with him,” Sawyer said.
Also back for his senior season is Chase McMichael.
“Chase had an awesome track season. He hasn’t put a (cross country) race together the way he works out, but he’s a really talented runner who should be consistently in our top five,” said Sawyer.
ECU could get another new boost from newcomer Jason Ogan, a transfer from Oklahoma Baptist University.
“Jason ran a 15:20 in the 5k for OBU and should be a good addition for us,” Sawyer said.
The No. 6 through No. 8 spots could be up for grabs and one of those candidates is returning sophomore Taylor Nasu along with freshmen newcomers Jonathan Ogan, younger brother of Jason, and Arturo Nava.
“Taylor is a really fast runner, but a bit inconsistent. I think he puts too much pressure on himself. Jonathan was a runner-up in the state in Class 5A in the two-mile,” said Sawyer. “Arturo has trained a little with (former ECU runner) Kolin Styles. Arturo lives and dies to run. He’s a super, fast kid with a 4:29 in the mile and a 15:45 in the 5k. I think he’ll do some big things.”
Also back are senior Hunter Henrie and junior Will Baldwin.
“Hunter has never had consistent training and hasn’t run his best yet, but he has the talent to do it. Will had some heart surgery and may be a bit out of shape coming in. Our goal is to have him be in tip-top shape by the (Arkansas) Chile Pepper in October,” Sawyer said.
The Tigers welcome another newcomer in freshman walk-on Zacharie Jeandemange, out of Paoli.
“He’s a good runner and had a 10:21 on a two-mile track. He did about every sport in high school, but hadn’t had much distance running. If we can get some miles under him and stay healthy, he’s got some potential,” said Sawyer.
ECU launches the 2012 season at Midwestern State on Aug. 30 in Wichita Falls, Texas. The Tigers then host the Tiger Chase on Sept. 8 at the Pontotoc Technology Center. ECU will also host the Great American Conference Championships on Oct. 20.
After a 2011 Great American Conference runner-up finish, the East Central University women’s cross country team seeks bigger and better fortunes in 2012.
The Lady Tigers return all seven of their top runners off last year’s squad in hopes of improving on a 13th-place finish from last fall’s NCAA Division II South Central Regional. Four ECU runners earned first team all-conference recognition while two more picked up second team honors.
“We should be a lot better. We have a lot of senior talent,” said ECU head coach Steve Sawyer. “We want to get into the top six of the region. Each region will get at least three qualifying teams (as opposed to just two last year). We will also be looking to win the conference championship.”
Amber Walker, a sophomore out of Marietta, is coming off a magnificent freshman campaign in which she led the Lady Tigers in most races and was the team’s highest finisher at the GAC meet. Walker also broke the 5-kilometer school record at that GAC meet by becoming the first Lady Tiger to finish in just under 18 minutes at 17:56.09.
“Amber had a great year as a freshman. She was a real good high school runner but has run even better in college. She’s a competitor who hates to lose,” Sawyer said.
Sophomore ReGina Germaine and senior Samantha Bartlett should have the inside track for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots on the roster. Bartlett finished sixth in the conference meet last year with a time of 18:08.19 while Germaine ended up seventh in 18:31.49.
“I think Sam is going to surprise a lot of people. She just needs to stay healthy,” said Sawyer. “ReGina leads by example. She’s not the most vocal person. She was our No. 1 finisher in our first race out last year. I see her being a future captain for us.”
The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh spots should also be experienced as well with the return of seniors Andrea McKinney, Colleta Songol and Miranda Claxton, along with sophomore Minhuyen Nguyen.
McKinney finished 11th at the GAC meet and Claxton was 18th as both earned second team all-conference accolades.
“Andrea goes above and beyond what you tell her to do. If you tell her to go 10 miles, she’ll go 12. She will be one of our two captains,” Sawyer said. “She has a killer instinct and loves to run and loves to win. Toward the end of last year, she was running some awesome times.
“Colleta is a very talented runner and real hard worker. She’s been battling some knee problems, but if she stay’s healthy I can see her run anywhere from our No. 2 through No. 5 spots.”
Claxton is another runner who has battled some knee problems.
“Miranda has a ton of talent but has been injured at times. If she can consistently train, she has a chance to finish in the No. 3-5 range for us,” said Sawyer.
Nguyen was 27th at the conference meet.
“She handles pain better than most people. If she runs like she does in practice she can be a high finisher. She just has to get past her nervousness on race days,” Sawyer said.
Senior Katie Bruner is another runner who could crack the top six, according to Sawyer.
“She’s a great runner, but needs to work on her killer instinct. We look for her to have a solid senior season,” said Sawyer.
The Lady Tigers welcome two freshmen newcomers in Kortney CeBallos and Allison Faircloth, both out of Sanger, Texas. CeBallos ran a low 12-minute for two miles in high school while Faircloth ran in the mid 12-minute range for that distance.
“Both are capable of being in the top seven. We just have to see how they handle mileage. I think it’s one of those cases in which the longer the distance the better off they’ll be,” Sawyer said.
ECU opens the 2012 season on Aug. 30 at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. The Lady Tigers then host the Tiger Chase on Sept. 8 at the Pontotoc Technology Center In Ada. ECU will also host the Great American Conference Championships at that same venue on Oct. 20.