Cross Country sets the bar high after a successful 2014

Cross Country sets the bar high after a successful 2014

DENTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 26 : North Texas Mean Green Cross Country Ken Garland Meet at Eagle Point in Denton on September 26, 2014 in Denton, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts)Courtesy North Texas Athletics

Cross Country sets the bar high after a successful 2014
September 01
15:30 2015

Jesse Brackeen | Staff Writer

@hail_bracKing

Last season, the Mean Green men’s Cross Country team finished at the top of Conference USA, winning its first title since UNT moved from the Sun Belt Conference in 2013.

This year, the team is returning with four of its top five runners from the championship season.

With the team’s first race taking place tonight in Waco, expectations for the program are at an all-time high, especially for third-year coach Stefanie Slekis.

“The goal this season, for the men, is to be a top 25 team at the national championship.” Slekis said. “With that goal in mind, it’s going to lead to us running well at the regional meet and also winning the conference championship again.”

The women’s program had a strong season as well, finishing third in C-USA.  But similar to the men’s division, neither Slekis nor her runners are content with last season’s finish.

“I am never going to be satisfied unless we win all four and we are back at the national championship,” Slekis said. “Final four on both sides, we haven’t taken a title. The women, we want to win. We have lowered our score every time. The girls know we need five girls all conference, and they have rallied around that idea this year.”

In 2014, Slekis was named Conference USA men’s coach of the year in only her second season with the program. Her expectations are undeniably high this season and her runners want more than a conference championship.

“Being in the top four in regionals with the top two going through to nationals, that’s our focus,” junior Shauna Pali said. “That’s our big focus going into training each day, thinking we want nationals.”

Last season, senior Troy Taylor finished 145 out of 246 of the best runners at the collegiate level. Taylor posted a time of 31:54 in the 10k championship race in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Slekis said taking part in the national championship is an accomplishment in itself, but ultimately not the end goal this season.

“The goal is to get to nationals, not to just be happy to be there,” Slekis said. “We want to get there, actually compete and be a top 25 team.”

In order to get more runners qualified to run at nationals, the team must start off strong, specifically in conference events. On the men’s side, senior Bryce McAdams said one program in particular poses a challenge to the Mean Green claiming back-to-back championships.

“For us it’s [University of Texas at El Paso,]” McAdams said. “They’re always a strong team and we barely beat them last year. They’ll always give us a good challenge.”

The key to a successful season is a group of individual runners operating as a unified group of runners, buying into the goals of the team.

Slekis believes her team has bought into its lofty goals.

“The chemistry is there,” Slekis said. “It’s exciting to have a team that buys into who we are and what we are about. That was my big thing when I came here two years ago– to develop a winning culture, to develop a championship culture. It’s pretty impressive that we have done that in two years since I got here.”

Featured Image: Courtesy | North Texas Athletics

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