XC: Women's youth, men's depth define cross country teams

The men's and women's cross country teams start the year Sept. 8 at the UTA Season Opener.

Aug. 28, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The UT Arlington men's and women's cross country teams have their sights set on a new finish line this year, as the Mavericks teams move into the Western Athletic Conference for the 2012 campaign.

And while the end point may be different, head coach John Sauerhageand his squads have the same goal in mind, working toward competing at the highest level at the conference meet. The quest for a league championship officially kicks off with the UTA Season Opener on Saturday, Sept. 8, within the friendly confines of Vandergriff Park.

In addition to the added excitement of switching leagues, Sauerhage also is eager for his 18th year to get underway in order to get a chance to see a bevy of his high-quality recruits compete at the Division I level.

The men's team figures to be one of the deepest UTA squads in recent history, with as many as eight to 10 runners looking to contribute.

"I think we'll be a competitive team on the men's side," Sauerhage said. "We have talent and we have depth, and when you have those things, you have a chance. Success breeds success and the competition on the team on a day-in, day-out basis will not allow for any complacency from anyone."

Two freshmen that figure to rank near the top of the heap are Virgilio Martinez and Craig Lautenslager. Martinez, a four-time cross country regional qualifier at Arlington High School, is a promising youngster. Meanwhile, Lautenslager, a native of the Metroplex, became one of New Zealand's top distance runners since moving to that country when he was eight.

In addition to those talented newcomers, UTA welcomes back five runners who participated in last year's Southland Conference Championships. The top returner is Cody Widener, who placed 36th (26:41) in the 8K, and is hungry for a big senior season.

The other key returnees from last year's seventh-place team include seniors Holton Hemby and Hance Loyd, as well as sophomores Emil Blomberg and Robert Gribble. In addition, senior Eric Montou, who sat out last year due to injury, returns for his senior campaign.

The rest of the roster includes senior Kevin Vasquez, juniors Jacob Critelli, Philip Critelli, Anthony Hilliman and Aaron Purser, as well as freshmen Dejion Stone and Ryan Tillota.

The women's team ranks among the youngest in the nation, as the 10-person team is comprised of five freshmen and five sophomores. Just three team members have ever competed at a conference championship, with the highest finish coming courtesy of sophomore Hannah Nilssonat last year's SLC meet (31st). The team placed fifth in its final SLC season.

"We lost our top two runners from a year ago, but we have a really good class of freshmen," Sauerhage said. "It's a matter of how quickly they can adapt to running at a Division I school. If we can stay healthy, we can reach our potential."

Headlining the incoming class are Gabriela Alfonzo and Katelyn Hayward. Alfonzo, a freshman from Valencia, Venezuela, was considered the top distance running prospect in her native country. She enters the season at just 16 years of age.

Meanwhile, Hayward ranks among the world's top young steeplechasers. A former national-caliber swimmer, she has grown into one of the top distance runners in Canada.

Half of the team hails from foreign countries, including three from Sweden. Nilsson is joined by countrymates Johanna Nissen Karlsson and Elin Andersson.

Rounding out the roster are sophomores Sydney Hampton, Courtney Mose and Ashly Wright as well as freshmen Jamia Graham and Whitney Hayley.

The WAC Championships will be held in Ruston, La., on Oct. 27, on the same course that the Mavericks will compete on at the Louisiana Tech meet on Sept. 15. Prestigious events on the schedule include the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind. (Sept. 28) and the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark. (Oct. 13).

While Sauerhage has no way of knowing how his teams or individuals may fare in the WAC at this early stage, he is very much looking forward to competing in the league.

"It's going to be fun," he said. "All the schools in the league try to have a complete (track and field) team, not just a strong distance team. That competitive balance will be better for cross country and will make things very interesting."





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