XC: Cross country teams eye fast start, strong finish

Gabriela Alfonzo is poised for a solid sophomore season.

Aug 28, 2013

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The UT Arlington men's and women's cross country teams have their sights set on big seasons in 2013, the Mavericks' first foray in the Sun Belt Conference. And based on the performances by its runners over the last 12 months, it's no wonder why head coach John Sauerhage is so excited about the teams' prospects.

The men will be looking to claim back-to-back league titles for the first time in school history this fall after snagging the Western Athletic Conference crown last year, which was the team's first conference title since 1999.

"I know what it takes, and this team can compete for a conference championship," Sauerhage said. "But we have reached the point where making it to the NCAAs has to be a goal as well. We can't be satisfied with only how well we run at the conference meet."

The women, meanwhile, return every runner from last year's squad, which placed fifth in the WAC. UTA also ranked among the top 15 in the South Central Region despite fielding a team that featured freshmen and sophomores exclusively.

"Our women are going to surprise some people," Sauerhage said. "We have several returners who are coming off outstanding spring seasons on the track. If they can take another step up and can get from point A to point B mentally, we could be very good."

Last year, the men posted three victories and had one runner-up finish among its six meets. As a result, UTA vaulted to No. 6 in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Regional Rankings, the squad's highest ranking in 20 years.

One of the stars is Virgilio Martinez, who returns for his sophomore season after taking home WAC Freshman of the Year honors last year. The first-team all-league performer led the Mavs in all but two meets in 2012 and ran a 24:47 in the 8k at conference.



Another top sophomore is Craig Lautenslager, who also was a first-team all-conference athlete in the WAC with an 8k time of 24:50. Lautenslager secured a team-best 27th-place showing at the 2012 South Central Regional, missing out on all-region accolades by just two places.

Two second-team all-WAC performers from last fall also return. Emil Blomberg (24:51) followed up his strong cross country season by winning a conference title in the steeplechase during the outdoor track season. Tilotta, who was just one second behind Blomberg, also earned all-league mention in two events in outdoor track.

The Mavs possess added depth and capable leaders with seniors Aaron Purser and Kevin Vasquez as well as junior Robert Gribble. With newcomers Carlos Arias, Grant Copeland, Eric Ojeda and Justin Barrett also ready to compete, Sauerhage considers it the deepest team in UTA history.

The women also feature increased depth, but Hannah Nilsson once again figures to pace the squad. The junior was a second-team all-conference performer last fall. She was the Mavs' top finisher at each meet during her sophomore slate and had a season-best 5k time of 17:51.

Two sophomores figure to hit their strides in their second seasons in Arlington. Gabriela Alfonzo was an all-league performer in the 10,000 meters (37:35) in the spring, while Katelyn Hayward was the 2013 WAC Indoor Track Freshman of the Year as well as the conference runner up in the steeplechase in the outdoor season.

Every runner who competed at last year's league championships is back and, equally important, healthy. The rest of the returners include Sydney Hampton (18:28), Ashly Wright (2013 NCAA Championships participant in the 800m), Courtney Mose, Elin Andersson and Johanna Nissen Karlsson.

Sauerhage also has brought five talented newcomers--Tamerah Gorham, Alison Williams, Rossina Ortega, Samantha Kubiak and Taylor Lindstrom--into the fold. The early training indicates that everyone is ready to compete at a high level.

The teams will kick off their seasons on Saturday, Sept. 14 with the UTA Season Opener. It will be held at the Mavericks' new home, Lynn Creek Park at Joe Pool Lake in Grand Prairie and admission is free.

"We are excited about our new home at Lynn Creek Park," Sauerhage said. "It will provide us with a true cross country layout and will be a great venue for years to come. Hopefully a strong partnership like this will allow us the opportunity to host a Sun Belt Conference Championship in the future."

Armed with a formidable schedule, UTA also will participate at the Cowboy Jamboree (Sept. 28 in Stillwater, Okla.), Notre Dame Invitational (Oct. 4 in South Bend, Ind.) and Crimson Classic (Oct. 18 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.) prior to the Sun Belt Conference Championships on Nov. 2 in Troy, Ala.

This year's South Central Regional will be contested in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 15, while the NCAA Championships are slated for Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.



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