The whole world might not be watching, but there still are plenty of eyes focused on the Oregon Tech cross country program this season, one in which both women and men are nationally ranked.
“We’re talented and young, and we’re trying to not put too much pressure on them,” Jack Kegg says of the Hustlin’ Owls.
The seventh-rated women are especially young, with three freshmen among the six runners on the roster for a team which graduated four seniors off last year’s NAIA national championship team.
Gone are Susie Garza, Cindy Reed, Danielle DeCastro and Annika Andersen. The first three have the three fastest cross country times over 5,000 meters all-time, and Andersen has the seventh fastest.
They all are among the top dozen at 6K, the standard college cross country race distance.
The men, meanwhile, have Mark French and Tim McPherson back, both of whom are among the top nine over an 8,000-meter course. Both are coming off injuries and Kegg says they will be worked into the rotation to be ready for the conference championships.
“We want them to be ready for the Jessup meet (Oct. 26),” Kegg says. “We don’t want to overload the guys.”
McPherson is the lone senior on the men’s roster, with French one of three juniors expected to compete for the Hustlin’ Owls, who drew a No. 24 ranking in the men’s preseason poll.
“I am optimistic that, although the women are young, they will compete with the best teams in the nation,” Kegg says. “We have a very strong group of returners, with three of the fastest 15 women in school history.”
Faith Widman returns with the sixth-best time, Hannah Mason No. 10 and Mallory Ward No. 14.
“Mallory had a phenomenal summer, and Hannah will be relevant,” Kegg says. “The girls will be good.”
Delani Dietrich is a redshirt freshman, with newcomers McKenzie Morgan and Mia Smith rounding out the women’s roster.
“Only having six women is a concern,” Kegg says.
This will be the first time in six seasons in which Garza has not been part of the program, and OIT advanced to the NAIA national championships all five of her years at OIT, including her redshirt year.
“Time will tell,” Kegg says. “I think we will be good, but it will take the whole year to get there.”
The same holds true for the men, but the coach has a core of runners who all should be close, time wise, throughout the season, and should be able to stay close enough to most leaders to give OIT a chance to place well both in the Cascade Collegiate Conference and at the national meet.
This year’s national championships will be at the Fort Vancouver National Monument in Vancouver, Wash., for the second time in three seasons.
Two key runners for the men will be junior Chris Ramirez out of Henley High School, and Victor Rios from Klamath Union. Brent Hunter, Nick McMillen and freshmen Joseph Wilkinson also need to be watched.
■ The men’s national preseason poll, Southern Oregon was ranked fourth, The College of Idaho sixth and Eastern Oregon No. 18, while Northwest Christian also received votes.
■ In the women’s poll, SOU had one first-place vote and was ranked fourth, with Oregon Tech seventh, The College of Idaho ninth and Northwest Christian No. 18. Eastern Oregon also received votes.
■ French is a two-time All-American for the OIT men.
■ OIT opened its season Friday at the Humboldt State University Invitational, and return to action Sept. 20 in the conference preview meet in Cottage Grove. The actual conference meet will be Nov. 8 in Cottage Grove.
■ The NAIA national championships are scheduled for Nov. 22.