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Tiger runners will break in new course

Published on -10/5/2012, 10:25 AM

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After months of money, time, supplies, preparation and hopefully, this time nice weather, the Fort Hays State University cross country team is set to host a meet at Sand Plum Nature Trail in Victoria. Joe Brungardt, one of the landowners of the property, created the trails throughout 2012 with the help of Tiger cross country coach Jason McCullough.

On Saturday, Fort Hays will host the annual FHSU Tiger Open at the new course. The women will run at 9 a.m., followed by the men at 9:45 a.m. The Tiger men are ranked No. 20 in NCAA Division II, the highest ranking for the men under McCullough, in his eighth year with the program. The women have no seniors but have posted a solid season, led by junior Gentry Linscott, the current MIAA Female Runner of the Week.

Fort Hays was supposed to run at Sand Plum on Aug. 25 for the Alumni Run, but the venue was moved to the Victoria High School track because of bad weather. Temperatures are expected to drop this weekend, but rain is forecasted to stay away.

"As long as it's dry, we are going to have a very good course to run on," McCullough said. "They are really looking forward to it."

Even in the last few weeks, McCullough has added some touches to the women's 5-kilometer course and the men's 8-kilometer course. That includes bringing in more mulch and putting pads around some trees with Tiger emblem similar to the padding around the bases of football goalposts.

The men finished first at the Colby Trojan Invite and then earned a fourth place showing at the Woody Greeno Invitational, a major meet at Lincoln, Neb. Last week, Fort Hays won the 13-team Emporia State meet by 32 points. Five runners finished in the top-10, including a second-place showing for sophomore Cory Keehn and a fifth place finish for senior Alex Hendee.

Senior Tanner Christensen, hurt last year, took sixth. McCullough said the team ran more than a minute faster per runner than the Tigers did last year at Emporia. FHSU bumped up six spots in the poll after last week's performance.

"We are training smart, and they have a lot of motivation and a lot of confidence right now and that's a big thing when it comes to competing in any sport," McCullough said. "I think they are excited about the prospects for this season and seeing us move up in the polls was rather exciting."

Saturday marks the last regular season race before the MIAA championships Oct. 20. McCullough brings 10 runners to conference and keeps an updated chart of the individual rankings on the cross country team wall at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Tigers earn points based on finishes. As well, improvement, including at Saturday's meet, and coach's decision can play a role in the 10-member team. The men have a tight race for some of the back-end spots.

"There is going to be one or two guys on the varsity that aren't going to be going to conference," McCullough said.

The women have a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors in their top five, led by Linscott, who took fourth at Emporia. Linscott had redshirted last year as she recovered from injury. Linscott had constant pain and had some difficult treatment, including spinal taps.

"Mostly I am just thankful that I can even run," Linscott said. "I just thank God everyday that I can even come to practice and run. Just being healthy and seeing my teammates and compete well... For me, it's always exciting to compete. I just have more confidence now knowing that my teammates and I have competed well."

Sophomore Alex Nelson was ninth and junior Carman Hill, a Hoxie graduate who didn't compete in high school cross country but was a state champion 800-meter runner, was ninth.

Junior Kylie Gaughan, from Hays High School, was running well early, but has battled a little hip injury.

"If you are looking towards next year, I am pretty excited about the girls," McCullough said. "Just keep them healthy, keep them excited, keep them motivated and good things will happen."

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