Friday, October 27, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 66, Issue 49 

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Coogs concentrate on moving up in C-USA

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UH cross country teams face final challenge

By Tom Carpenter
Daily Cougar Staff

The end is near.

After running hundreds of miles down the streets around the UH campus and enduring the suffocating heat and frequent ozone alerts of metropolitan Houston, the young and the restless are heading north.

The Cougar men and women's cross country teams will be in St. Louis, Mo., on Saturday to compete in the Conference USA championship.

The men's head coach, Howie Ryan, is confident the team is ready.

"So far, things are going pretty good," Ryan said. "The guys looked good yesterday in their workout."

Women's head coach Theresa Fuqua was unavailable for comment on the women's team.

The Cougars are not the favorite to win the conference. Tulane and South Florida are the strongest teams on paper. Ryan said he'll be satisfied with a top five finish by his squad.

"If our second through fourth runners, Gary Skinner, Toartou Kargou and Jared Kuntz, all run together and stay together as a group, and then one of the other freshmen comes up at the end and helps us out a little bit, I think we definitely have a chance to place in the top five in the conference," Ryan said. "I think that would be a good accomplishment for the young team that we have."

The men's team hasn't been at full strength all season, forcing Ryan to lean heavily on his underclassmen.

"Two of our more experienced cross country runners have been out with injuries all year," Ryan said, referring to Lance Parker and Kevin Ward, who underwent surgeries this summer.

"We're depending a lot on the younger kids to do well," he said.

The coach said he thinks the young runners are capable of surprising the league.

According to Ryan, a fourth place finish would the best case scenario.

Cougar All-Conference USA runner Mike Olague has set the pace this year for the Cougar men's team. Olague has been the mainstay of Ryan's young guns. The junior from Conroe is a wild card in the conference run for the roses.

"It's going to be difficult for Mike to win it," Ryan said. "Tulane has a real good Kenyan. He's going to be pretty difficult to beat. South Florida has a couple of foreigners also. But if everything goes well, Mike's got an outside shot of winning it."

Ryan said he doesn't agree with foreign runners competing in the United States at the college level.

"Personally I don't believe in recruiting too many foreigners at all," Ryan said.

The coach said he believes the influx of foreign runners at American colleges is one reason the national Olympic team is weak in the middle distance and distant races.

I think we're here to develop American runners," Ryan said. "In the college ranks, we're actually training these foreigners and not helping out the American kids."

Teaching the young runners about college competition was Ryan's top priority this year.

And for the men's and women's teams, it's time for the final exam.

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