Las Cruces, N.M.-After coming off a promising campaign from last season, the New Mexico State University cross country team heads into this season with a well-conditioned and talented squad.
The Aggies opened up the season last Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M., with the Lobo Invitational. Team scores were not tallied, but individual times of Aggie runners would have placed the men's squad in 2nd behind UTEP and the women's squad 2nd behind UNM.
The men's team finished 2nd and the women's team finished 3rd in the Western Athletic Conference Championship last season with a relatively youthful squad. The centerpieces of last year's team will be returning this season, increasing expectations by coaches and players.
"Both squads are the best teams ever assembled here at NM State in terms of talent and maturity," said assistant coach Meaghan Harkins.
Sisters and Las Cruces natives Courtney and Camille Schultz will become the core of the women's squad this season. Courtney finished 1st overall and Camille finished less than a second behind for 2nd in the WAC Championship.
Courtney and Camille were both named to the first team All-WAC for cross country in 2010. Courtney was also named as WAC Player of the Year.
Junior Chelsa McDonnell will also join the women's cross country core, finishing 7th overall in the WAC Championships and named to first team All-WAC in 2010.
The men's squad will enter the season with equally high expectations. Senior Kevin Taft, along with juniors Ian and Jonah Ruybalid, will lead the team in 2011. Jonah and Taft finished 5th and 6th respectively at the Lobo Invitational last Saturday.
The early part of the NM State cross country schedule is designed to give many Aggie runners exposure to their local rivals. NM State will be running with I-10 rival UTEP and in-state rival UNM in the first three meets of the season.
The Aggies' next meet will come on Saturday, Sept. 10, in Santa Teresa, N.M., for the Lori Fitzgerald Invitational hosted by UTEP. NM State will race again the following weekend when the Aggies host the Kachina Classic in Las Cruces.
"It is not usual for a cross country team to run three straight competitions," said Harkins. "We plan to use the meet this weekend as a chance for more conditioning instead of for race competition."
Preseason polls ranked the UNM women's team No. 2 and the men's team No. 21 in the nation. UTEP cross country dominates Conference USA, winning individual titles from both the men's and women's side in 2010.