PORTALES — The Eastern New Mexico University men’s cross country team has climbed one mountain. Today, they go for an even bigger one.
The Greyhounds, who ended Abilene Christian’s 20-year run as Lone Star Conference champions two weeks ago, will try to earn one of two NCAA Division II national berths from the South Central Region in competition today at Hawk River Golf Course Wichita Falls, Texas.
“I think our ultimate goal is to go to the nationals,” said coach Mike Harney, in his first year as head coach after three seasons as Eric Boll’s assistant. “Anything less than that for these kids would be a disappointment.”
The women’s six-kilometer race is scheduled for 8 a.m. (MDT), with the men’s 10K race to follow. The event includes teams from the LSC, Heartland Conference and Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
The top two teams in each qualify for the national meet on Nov. 19 at Spokane, Wash., while the top five individuals on non-qualifying teams also advance. The Hounds finished seventh in last year’s regional meet at Warrensburg, Mo., while the Zias were 16th.
The Hounds have an interesting mix of international runners and New Mexico entrants. Kenyans Isaiah Samoei, the LSC individual champion, and Tallum Kipruto and Somalia native Mohamed Noor have meshed well with Tyler Saiz of Albuquerque, Justin Netcher of Clovis and Jacob Lozano of Hobbs.
“I would definitely be disappointed (to not qualify the team),” said Lozano, a junior who was 10th in the LSC meet. “I have another year, but I don’t how many times something like this comes around.”
Lozano was generally in the top two or three runners for the Hounds as a freshman, but he’s been moved back with the additional talent the last couple of years. He doesn’t mind, though.
“To have this opportunity is pretty exciting,” he said. “If we can duplicate what we did (at the conference meet), we’re going to have a great day.”
The Hounds, ranked ninth in NCAA Division II, appear to be competing with Central Missouri and East Central for the two team spots, Harney said. Central Missouri is ranked 10th nationally but first in the region ahead of ENMU, while ECU is 11th and third, respectively.
“For me, I feel if they (Hounds) run to their potential, we’ll be making the trip to Spokane,” Harney said. “The only thing that can stop us is not being focused.”
The Zias are not likely to qualify anyone, but Harney said his goal is to see if they can break into the top 10 as a team.
Senior Nicky Reid and sophomore Adrienne Montoya, the only runners back with experience from last year, lead the way. They ran ninth and 13th, respectively, last weekend to garner All-LSC honors.
“We would like to be top 10, which I think we’re capable of,” said Montoya, who is from Estancia. “I’m just going to try to pass as many people as I can.”
Montoya said the leadership role currently held by Reid will fall to her next season.
“She’s a really, really good leader,” Montoya said of her teammate. “They’ll be some big shoes for me to fill.”