Stephen Sisson

When Texas competes in the Big 12 Championships Saturday, head coach Stephen Sisson doesn’t expect too many surprises.

“I designed the course, so I know where the twists, turns and strategic points are,” Sisson said. “We’ve had the chance to get out there two to three times, so we’ll be prepared for any intricacies that happen during the race and respond to them well.”

Emerging from a two-week hiatus, Texas last competed in the Pre-Nationals Invitational and finished fifth. The meet bumped up the team’s national USTFCCCA ranking from its season-opening No. 26 to a season-high No. 14. The Longhorns are hosting the conference championships for the first time since 2003, and now face teams including No. 2 Iowa State and No. 27 Oklahoma State.

Hoping to beat its second-place finish from last year, Texas fields a deeper team than in years past. Teammates and coaches agree they no longer rely on one runner to carry weight.

“People feel more of an individual responsibility,” Sutherland said. “Every single girl that will line up on Saturday is going to be prepared, excited to be running at the conference meet and feeling a positive kind of pressure.”

The women’s 6K race begins Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Jimmy Clay Golf Course.

No. 27 Texas races to the West Coast for the Pac 12 Preview Elite Invitational 5K Friday, Sept. 21. The event will start at 7:40 p.m. CST at Robinson’s Ranch Golf Course, and Texas is ready to start the season with a bang. The Longhorns won four meets last season on the way to a second-place finish in the Big 12 Championships. That tournament’s all-league honors juniors Marielle Hall and Sara Sutherland are anticipating this week’s race.

“[Hall] is a blue-chip caliber athlete,” seventh-year assistant coach Stephen Sisson said. “This year we’re working on balancing her speed element and strength element so she can be successful. She’s a proven conference competitor but one who really wants to take that next step to the upper echelon.”

As her coaches work to balance her racing skills, Hall is already balancing her many commitments. An impressive track record sums up her first two years of eligibility: She holds titles as both the 2011 Big 12 Indoor 1000-meter champion and the UT school record holder for the indoor mile, with a time of 4:43.53 in the distance medley relay. Yet these athletic accomplishments don’t preclude academic excellence. Although Hall devotes long hours to practice, she has still maintained a spot on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll every semester.

Hall joins upperclassmen Laleh Mojtabaeezamani, Anne Jones, Sara Sutherland, Megan Siebert, Jessica Harper and Brittany Marches as leaders for this weekend’s team. Academic sophomores Jenna Read and Marissa Lee step up to the line as well, welcoming classmate Alaina Perez to her first match following a redshirt season. Freshmen Kendall Howen and Claire Andrews complete the lineup. The impressive newcomers finished their high school careers as a 3200-meter track state finalist and all-region cross country honoree, respectively. With the solid lineup, Sisson brims with confidence in his team.

“Believe me, they’re competitive,” Sisson said. “They see the beauty in each other, but they’re competitive enough to take their strengths and keep working to try and become better. They want to beat each other, but they don’t want to beat each other at the expense of the other. They’re learning how to lift each other up.”

If you started your weekend with a walk through downtown Austin, you probably encountered the Longhorns running away from the competition.

The women’s track and field squad got the season unofficially started with a heated race against the UTSA Roadrunners. The Longhorns recorded a respectable 34 team points, but UTSA won the dual meet.

Saturday’s exhibition meet served as a showcase for the Longhorns’ younger runners. Top runners were held out of the race, but the squad was still able to show future talent while gaining quality experience for the newcomers.

“The freshman group coming in, at this point and time, is better than any freshman group I’ve ever had at The University of Texas,” assistant coach Stephen Sisson said. “We did a good job of recruiting last year.”

Redshirt freshmen Alaina Perez and Marissa Lee looked impressive, each finishing in the top 10 of the meet. Redshirt freshman Marissa Pekarek was the fifth member of the Longhorns to score points for the team, finishing 12th.

The team was powered by senior Anne Jones, who placed first among all runners. Junior Melissa Mahoney joined her fellow upperclassman in totaling points for the team, as she finished 11th overall.

Sophomores Rachel Gutknecht and Jessica Clothier and redshirt freshman Colleen Murray also raced for the Longhorns. 

This race marked the first for Perez, Lee, Pekarek, Clothier and Murray in a Longhorn uniform.

“From a base level, a competitive attitude has to be inherent,” Sisson said. “If you don’t have the drive to win, you won’t be
successful at Texas.”

The Longhorns will look to officially get their season kicked off right Sept. 21 when they compete at the Los Angeles XC invite. 

The 15th-ranked Longhorns finished the Big 12 Championship meet in a disappointing fifth place Saturday.

“The Big 12 is a very competitive league, and if you blink, then someone is going to come and do better,” said assistant coach Stephen Sisson.

Junior runner Mia Behm led the Longhorns, placing 20th with a time of 21 minutes in the 6K. Freshman Megan Siebert finished only five seconds behind. freshman Sara Sutherland, junior Julie Amthor, sophomore Laleh Mojtabaeezamani, senior Allison Mendez and senior Christina Henderson all finished in the top 50.

The Big 12 is one of the strongest conferences in the nation — Texas Tech and Colorado are both in the top 10, and entering the meet, Iowa State was ranked 11th.

“I think it is arguable to say who has the most competitive conference in the country,” Sisson said. “But we are definitely in one of the most competitive conferences.”

Texas Tech won the team title with 44 points. Colorado took second place, posting 53 points, followed by Iowa State and Oklahoma State.

Although the Big 12 meet has no consequences on the team’s future meets, the Longhorns had hoped it would be an opportunity to prove its talent and depth.

“Conference is a different animal; it is almost like it doesn’t fit in the rest of the season,” Sisson said. “It is about the athlete giving back to their school. They have to demonstrate burnt orange blood, what they feel about being at this school and what it means to have a Longhorn on their jersey.”

Although Sisson admitted the meet was a disappointment, he said he still has faith in his team.

“We still believe we are a top 20 team in the country, and we have a group of girls that are going to fight back and go into our region meet very focused, driven and ready to compete.”

The women now focus on the region meet in preparation of the ultimate goal — the NCAA Championships.

“I personally feel very confident for our team,” Behm said. “We are so ready and so fit and we have such amazing talent and such a good bond, and we all want it so badly. There is no way we can’t make it.”