ARLINGTON, Texas -- The men's and women's cross country teams are set to embark on their longest and most important trip of the year when they head to Boone, N.C., for Saturday's Sun Belt Conference Championships.
The 1,022 miles to their destination are nearly as many as the team traveled going to its four regular season meets combined (1,150), but the most meaningful miles that the UTA runners logged came from their own legs during their summer and fall workouts.
All those miles will culminate in a pair of races that figure to be hotly contested. Texas State (eighth), UTA (ninth) and Louisiana (10th) are all ranked among the top 15 men's teams in the NCAA South Central Region. On the women's side, only Texas State (14th) is regionally-rated, but several schools, including UTA, are right on the cusp.
The UTA men's squad successfully defending its Sun Belt championship last year, giving the Mavericks league title in three of their four seasons in the league (2013, 2015, 2016). However, nothing in the past matters on Saturday.
"The guys have their work cut out for them," UTA coach John Sauerhage said. "We're another dog in the pack this year. We're going to have to earn it all over each and every year. If we run like we are capable of, then we will have an opportunity to win the meet. I still like our chances."
Justin Domangue has been the Mavs' top finisher each race this year, and has a chance to contend for the individual conference title as well. He placed seventh last year as a freshman to earn second-team all-league honors.
Meanwhile, the women claimed the crown in 2014, giving a UTA program a league title in all four years in the SBC. Last year, the Mavericks placed fifth as a team with Tori Shelton leading the way with a sixth-place finish. Shelton was the only Maverick in the top 20 a year ago, but she figures to have more help near the front this year.
"I think that Tori and Astrid (Rosvall) can both finish in the top 10, which immediately gives you a shot at contending," Sauerhage said. "And then we have to have top 20s from our next three runners. It's that simple."
Sauerhage said that course conditions will be challenging. Torrential rains in Boone flooded the course on Monday. In addition, the Saturday morning forecast calls for additional rain showers as well as temperatures in the mid-40s.
"It's going to be a wet course," he said. "We better be good mudders."
For the first time, the SBC meet will be live streamed on ESPN3 here. The women's 5k begins at 9 a.m. (CT), with the men's 8k race to follow an hour later. Live results will be available through Delta Timing here.
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