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'We just ran for each other': How the women's cross country team got their first Sun Belt Conference Championship

Team photo women's cross country
The Texas State Women's Cross Country team won their first conference title since 1994.

'We just ran for each other' 

by Edmond Ortiz

How the women's cross country team got their first Sun Belt Conference Championship

 

Entering the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) championships last fall, the Texas State women’s cross country team had high expectations, but this did not include dominating the field en route to winning the program’s first conference title since 1994.

"It was something a little unexpected," says junior Devina Schneider. "We were all hoping to get a top five (finish). Then during the race, our coach was saying, ‘You all are in third! We can get top three!’ "

That was all the motivation that Schneider and her teammates needed. The squad collected 53 points at the conference event in October 2017 in Boone, North Carolina, outlasting host college Appalachian State by 27 points.

Totaling a time of 1:30:32, Texas State’s tally was the biggest point margin between the first- and second-place Sun Belt programs since 2010. Five women runners placed in the top 30 and two others finished 45th and 63rd. Schneider finished fourth with a personal best time of 17:55.9. Freshman McKynzie King recorded her career-best time of 17:57.4, right behind Schneider.

Schneider and King are the first Texas State runners to receive first-team all-SBC honors since the school joined the SBC. Kendra Long and Nikki Sanchez received second-team all-conference honors. Long placed eighth with a time of 18:00.3, while Sanchez finished 10th with a time of 18:01.6. Madilyn King placed 26th, recording her own career-best time of 18:36.2.

Finishing his third season as cross country/track and field director, Jody Stewart said winning the conference crown shows the overall program is on the right track toward long-term success. "It’s everything we’ve been talking about since we got here — continually building up the entire program," he says. "Historically, we’ve been a great sprints/jumps school, and now it’s about rebuilding the distance program."

Schneider says she felt the team had a better sense of camaraderie and cohesiveness last season. Stewart stresses pack running, where the athletes run together as a cohesive group.

"We simulated that for a race and then we ended up doing really well at conference," Schneider says. "We just ran for each other."

Stewart praises his assistants, particularly second-year coach Alex Muntefering, who specializes in distance. "We’ve talked about the vision from the start: What do we have to do to achieve our overall goal?" says Stewart. "He (Muntefering) worked daily on putting it together."

King says it is fun being part of a collegiate program that is succeeding and growing up together. "The team we have now is so great. It’s evolved over time," she says. "Everyone has stuck together through it all." Preparing for the fall season, King has been practicing to compete in steeplechase, a 3,000-meter race that involves hurdles and a water jump. She says she has no specific personal goals in mind but wants to do her best to help the entire program reach its objectives.

"The whole team is pretty goal-oriented," King adds. "I’ve blown all of my personal records out of the water. For next year, I just want to do the same thing: set some more personal records and do well."

Sanchez, the team’s lone senior is graduating, while Schneider and Erin Williams will become the only seniors on the fall 2018 squad. This cross country team is accumulating experience and confidence.

"The women's team is going to get stronger with this next recruiting class," Stewart says. "They're only going to get better."

 

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