The Longhorns liken the Penn State Open to a dress rehearsal.
The event, where both the men and the women finished No. 5, served as a preview for the upcoming Big 12 Championship on Oct. 29. And one conference team heading home with a target on its back.
Oklahoma State, whose men’s team won first place at the meet, swept the conference championship in 2015. While the women won for the first time in school history, the men have established a comfortable eight-year winning streak.
Now, the Longhorns aim to break it.
“OSU will always be the top team to beat,” assistant coach Brad Herbster said. “Last year they hosted the championship, so they had a clear advantage. No one else knew what the course ran like, but OSU knew it like the back of their hand.”
This year, the conference championship will take place on an unfamiliar course in Lubbock. And with a competition free of home-course advantage, the Longhorn men are confident they can compete against anyone — even the Cowboys.
“Our team is better than last year,” senior Robert Uhr said. “We have everyone coming back minus two runners. I’ve prepared myself during track season for this and I believe 100 percent that I’m physically fit enough to accomplish this goal.”
Several of the men, including Uhr, have gotten a taste of winning a Big 12 championship. The track and field team won the title this past spring, sparking a desire to double up with a cross country championship.
“This one means more,” sophomore Alex Rogers said. “The men’s team has never once won a Big 12 cross country championship. I want to be in the history books when they talk about who lead the charge for the first of many victories.”
For the women, the competition is wide open. Three Big 12 teams finished within 30 points of each other at the Penn State Open. Oklahoma State crossed third followed by West Virginia and Texas in fourth and fifth respectively. The Longhorns hope to build off the close finish and take the next step next time they take the course.
“The biggest challenge will be taking into account the different race styles,” senior Mary Beth Hamilton said. “But we definitely have a standout leader in Sandie [Raines], followed by a tight pack of solid runners, which is crucial. Hopefully it’s a separating factor for us.”
Both Texas teams pride themselves on their chemistry. Throughout the season, they’ve focused on working together on the course, running in a tight group and minimizing the gap between first and fifth.
Now they hope the close-knit mentality will lift them to their first Big 12 championship.
“I have to trust my training, my team, and my coach,” Rogers said. “I believe that no matter how well or how poorly I do that my team will be there doing their job, and I trust them enough to know that they won’t go down without a fight.”