Picking up the pace for
By Tom Carpenter
Daily Cougar Staff
The dog days of August mean the Cougar
cross country teams are running through the streets of Houston preparing
for their season
opener Friday, Aug. 31 at the Rice Relay
Invitational on Allen Parkway.
A familiar face will be missing this time
around. Men's cross country coach Howie Ryan said senior Mike Olague won't
make the trip this
year. The intrepid Olague is going to
sit this season out.
"After talking it over with (track and
field head coach Leroy Burrell), we've decided to redshirt Mike during
the cross country season," Ryan
said. "(Burrell's) comfortable with the
decision. We've got a young team this year. By redshirting Mike, we sacrifice
today for tomorrow. He'll
run track when it starts."
That leaves Kevin Ward, the lone senior
on the team, to set the pace for the young Cougars.
"We've got an interesting group of runners,"
Ryan said. "Guys who compete."
Sophomore Juan Cardenas, Conference USA
Freshman of the Year in track and field, will lead a group of freshmen
and sophomores who
Ryan hopes will gain enough experience
this year to complement Olague's strong presence next year.
Olague finished second at the C-USA Cross
Country Championship last year and was named All-Conference USA for his
Ryan is doing his best to make conditions
favorable for Olague to win it all next year.
"(Texas Christian) is coming into the conference
this year. They've got two outstanding Kenyans who are seniors," Ryan said.
redshirting Mike this year it will give
him a better chance next year."
Ryan doesn't recruit foreign athletes and
believes American colleges would be better off allocating their resources
to train American
During an interview last year, Ryan said
he believes inviting foreign athletes to compete in U.S. colleges and universities
American track and field teams when they
compete in international events like the Olympics.
"We spend our limited resources training
athletes from other countries. It just doesn't make any sense to me," Ryan
Joining Cardenas and Ward at the front
of the pack are junior Tartou Kargou and freshman Cole Daily from Rutherford,
Sophmores Alex Winstel, Ronnie Martinez,
Jared Kuntz and Matt Cobb return to run for Ryan.
They'll be joined by freshmen Jason Banes,
Carlos Rivas and Justin Urrutia when the very young Cougar men's team takes
to the back
roads and golf courses to compete.
The Cougar women's cross country team returns
a strong cadre of runners, coach Theresa Fuqua said.
"We've got a pretty healthy group of juniors
returning," Fuqua said. "When you look at the dynamics of the team, we're
fairly young, but we
have lots of experience."
Indeed they do. Five juniors return to
the squad from a team that suffered through the growing pains of rebuilding
last year when they were
Heather Howse, Jessica Oakes, Julie Perez,
Crystal Ryan and Pam Dyer form the nucleus of a team that Fuqua believes
can make some
noise in the conference.
"It's August. I'm always optimistic in
August," Fuqua said. "Even though we're loaded with freshmen, they've been
running for years."
That's the difference between the college
athletes today and the college athletes of 25 years ago.
No matter what the sport, for serious athletes
find it a year-round endeavor, and that includes 21st century women.
Fuqua's team is loaded with freshmen. Veronica
Thomas from Plano, Veronica Ramirez from San Antonio, Crystal Obey from
and Alana Hernandez from Deer Park all
hail from Texas.
But Fuqua's reach stretches all the way
back across the Ohio River to the state where she was born. The Ohio contingent
on the team
would make any Buckeye proud.
Freshman Terrie Littlepage hails from Cincinnati
and freshman Kelly McCarty and sophomore Jessica Oakes come from Fuqua's
hometown, Springfield, Ohio.
Senior Cicely Pinkston of Houston and sophomore
Allie Mascorro from Friendswood complete the women's team.
"I'm excited about this team. I've got
a group of girls that can run together right now." Fuqua said. "It's a
cohesive group competing with
each other. Any of them can finish first
on any given day."
Fuqua likes her team to run in a pack.
When a runner's performance improves, the entire pack benefits because
they strive to match the
speed of their peer.
"I've really been pushing the pack-running
aspect to them as a team," Fuqua said.
It's a strategy Fuqua, then Theresa Dunn,
couldn't employ when she ran as a Cougar in the '80s.
She was a four-time All-American in the
middle events and still holds Cougar records in the indoor mile and the
outdoor 800 and 1,500
"Even though cross country runners race
as individuals, they compete as a team," Fuqua said. "This team works together,
themselves as individuals."
Fuqua believes she's gathered a team around
her whose members can accomplish something special during their college
"I'm encouraged by the fact that I can
look at my group, and I've got four or five girls vying for the number-one
spot," Fuqua said. "I'm
excited because I've got a collection
of solid talent who can run a sub-six minute (a mile) pace for five kilometers."
The dog days of August suit Fuqua just
fine. It's the time of year when her women hit the bricks in earnest to
prepare for their season.
It's an exciting time for a coach who teaches
her runners to reach deep and give it everything they've got.
"A different girl could turn in the fastest
time each week. One week it could be Monica (Reyna), the next week it could
be (Howse), the
week after that it could be (Oakes),"
Fuqua said. "I'm my usual optimistic self, but I've got a good feeling
about this group."