Thursday's Carthage Invitational cross country meet at the Carthage Golf Course will have a smaller field than in years past, but head coach Andy Youngworth still expects stiff competition.
With 26 schools competing in the Invitational last fall, the varsity boys race had nearly 150 runners competing. This year Youngworth expects 15 schools to participate, meaning varsity races will be down to between 70 and 80 runners.
"We're losing some good teams and some small teams who always had competitive athletes," Youngworth said. "That's a little disappointing, but we've got 15 schools coming. The size of our races will be a little bit more manageable."
Seneca High School is holding a cross country meet the same day, and many of the smaller schools from last year have decided to compete there instead.
"That's the first time they've had a meet, and the more meets you have the more options you have for cross country and it gives kids a chance to have some success against smaller schools," Youngworth said.
Other annual participants, like Glendale, Rogers Ark. and Neosho have also opted not to compete this year, but Youngworth said the field is still very competitive. Some small schools like Jasper, Thomas Jefferson and College Heights will run at the Invitational, and Arkansas powerhouses Bentonville, Fayetteville and Heritage will be running Thursday as well. On the Missouri side, schools like Nixa, Bolivar, Joplin and Webb City will up the level of competition.
"It's going to be a tough meet," Youngworth said. "Bentonville, Fayetteville and Nixa are all going to be really, really tough teams and we're going to be hard-pressed to compete with them, but you never know."
Youngworth wants to see Carthage's performances improve over the Tigers' first two meets of the year, the MSSU warm-up and the Southwest Missouri Coaches Meet, and he also wants the Tigers to focus on running as a team, with one exception.
"I'm going to cut Ben Southwick loose a little bit," he said. "For us to be successful he needs to be running with the lead pack and he hasn't been the last couple meets. He's kind of given up his individual performances to help out the team a little bit, but if you've got a No. 1 on your team every once in a while you need to cut them loose and let him find his way out there. I want him to run under control."
Youngworth said the golf course provides a "very unique" cross country course that teams enjoy running on.
"We appreciate the golf course giving up the course for the bulk of the day for us to run there," he said. "The parks department helps out a lot. It's a unique environment any time you have a chance to run on our course. The schools really like coming to run there. It's not a course thrown into a field. It's got some character to it that makes it tough with some great downhills and some challenging uphills."
Page 2 of 2 - The Invitational is slated to begin at 4 p.m. with the varsity boys race, and the varsity girls race will follow. Two junior varsity races and two freshmen races will conclude the day.
SWMO Coaches Meet
Southwick paced the Tigers in Saturday's Southwest Missouri Cross Country Coaches Meet at Lebanon, finishing in 14th place overall with a time of 17:39.61. Mackenzie Smart took 34th with a time of 18:18.47, Hunter Blount and Oscar Sarceno finished 37th and 38th, respectively, with times of 18:20.82 and 18:22.86, and Carter Hensley took 42nd after finishing the race in 18:31.57. Brandon Hensley finished in 62nd with a time of 19:34.18, Leo Rabanales earned 67th after finishing in 19:49.91, Eduardo Reyes finished 88th in 22:00.04 and Jared Golden finished 91st with a time of 22:55.97.
"Our boys varsity team didn't stick long enough with our pack running and while we finished very close with runners two through five, we need to do better in controlling our impulse to leave our teammates," Youngworth said. "Hunter Blount continues to run well and it's hard to believe he is this good after less than one year of running. The good news is we found out early in the year what happens when we run as individuals and not a team, and these guys want to do it right."
Eli Wells and Riley Schmidt ran well in the junior varsity boys race, Youngworth said.
The Carthage varsity girls ran in a bunch, with Taylor Vaughn leading the Tigers pack in 39th place with a time of 24:16.33. Bree Smart followed in 40th with a time of 24:16.57, Jennifer Ovalle took 42nd in 24:30.41, Laken Baird finished 43rd in 24:31.08 and Shelby Teegarden finished 44th in 24:36.85.
"Four of our girls did a nice job of packing up and running together for the bulk of the race," Youngworth said. "Laken Baird and Shelby Teegarden ran very well for their first-ever 5K cross country meet. Our one through five runners were only 20 seconds apart and we can work with that philosophy and continue to improve as the season goes on."