Harding men’s and women’s cross-country teams started their season strong with the men placing third and the women placing second at their first meet of the season Sept. 13 in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. The men’s five scoring runners placed in the top 18, and the women’s five scoring runners in the top 13.
Head Coach Don Hood said temperatures reached 98 degrees during the meet, so he wasn’t expecting the runners to make their best times, but he was very impressed with their efforts.
“The temptation for [students] is to remember their best race and think, I can do that every time.” Hood said. “And they forget that circumstances dictate a lot of what you can do, especially temperature and the time of the year … But as a whole, I was really pleased. I thought our freshmen men and our freshmen women ran exceptionally well. Our upperclassmen — not just seniors — pretty well picked up where they left off. So I feel pretty good about it.”
Hood said the first meet was treated as part of their workout plan to get a feel for the rest of the season rather than an intense competition.
“I’m still trying to get to know them and what their talents are and how they race,” Hood said. “A lot of our [students] are freshmen, and they’re running a longer distance than in high school … so I just wanted them to get the experience of that.”
The women’s team of 13 has five freshmen, and the men’s team of 16 has nine freshmen, making about half of the runners new to the collegiate-level cross-country scene.
Sophomore Sydney Tabor said that with a new coach and so many new freshmen joining the team, it’s a fresh start for everyone. Tabor said this change has brought the team’s focus back to their purpose as runners and given them the freedom to manage their own success.
“So the change, as I would say about any change in life most of the time, has kind of made us refocus and realize why we came here, because we’re all sort of freshmen again,” Tabor said. “So we have the renewed drive and renewed energy with Coach Hood.”
Freshman Trevor Koonce said the team is going into the season focusing on goal development, community as a team, and building their mental game as individuals and as a group. Koonce said the team also has their eyes set on regionals.
“I think that’s what our team goal is at least, to hit [regionals] with a really high benchmark, really hit it as hard as we can,” Koonce said.
Tabor said the overall mindset of the season is to not only improve their individual times, but to also improve as a team.
“I think within the season we’re just going to focus on being together as a team and focus on getting better holistically, not just as runners,” Tabor said.