Dec. 10, 2013
By Josh McSwain, Student Writer
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Football may be the main area of strength for the SEC, but with five current nationally ranked teams, including two in the top ten, cross country is certainly on the rise.
“The power in the NCAA is shifting toward the SEC, so it was just as competitive as the other meets,” said junior Sam Dickerson of the conference championship held three weeks ago in Gainesville, FL. Dickerson, along with fellow-junior Courtney Brown, stepped up their performances to help the men’s and women’s teams to fourth and sixth place finishes, respectively.
Arriving at the A.L. Gustin Golf Course for the race, Dickerson was surprised to see that the course was comparable to others they had run throughout the season. Considering the region, as well as the fact that it was on a golf course, he had anticipated it would be relatively flat with good footing along the fairways. The footing turned out to be true, but the repeated hills on the three-loop course made it more challenging than they had expected. Although they were not huge hills, according to Dickerson, they “were gradual grades that you really started to feel the third time around.”
The heat also became a factor, as temperatures began climbing from 70-degrees on the morning of the race. That, combined with the humidity, took some getting used to for the Tiger athletes who had left behind highs in the 50’s and 60’s in Columbia.
Dickerson and the rest of the Mizzou men kicked off the day with a 9:00 a.m. start. While as a team they make a habit of getting to the line early and doing a few run-outs and a team huddle, every individual runner has their own ritual before the gun goes off. For Dickerson, it’s taking a step over the line when the starter tells them to get ready, and taking one last leap up before settling in with the rest of the team. The SEC Championship was no exception, and after his quick jump he assumed his position on the line with the rest of the team.
With distance running, there comes a point in the race where people must make the choice to either push through it or run "comfortably", so to speak. for Sam, that point comes around the 2k mark. It's at that moment, when he is feeling "absolutely gassed", that he has to make the conscious effort not to slow down. The story was no different in Gainesville, and although Sam said he "always feels like I could have done more after running a good race", he expressed that overall there was still a sence of accomplishment for him after the finish line.
"Before I knew it, four teammates crossed, so we had five across really quick, which made it a little disappointing that we got fourth," Dickerson said. "We wanted to get second, but we were only eleven points out of second. I was pleased."
For the women's team, last year was a rough first season in the conference as they placed 13th in the championship field. The women took a huge step forward this year, finishing seventh overall.
For Brown, the race in Gainesville was one of her best performances as a Tiger. She finished fourth on the team and 47th overall with a time of 21:52. She said the team did "pretty solid. Last year we got 13th and this year we got seventh, so obviously an improvement."
She thought this race was similar to the one at Bradley (Peoria, Ill.), where the team placed first to land in the Regional Rankings at No. 4, the highest rank for the women in the last four years.
"I ran smart, got out to a slow start but moved up well in the race. It was a strong performance but not the best I could have run," Brown said of her performance in Peoria.
Like Dickerson, Brown noticed the hills at the Univ. of Floriday course. She said the course was "secretly hilly", and that the hills weren't apparent before the race started. She did say that the heat was a bigger factor for her than the hills.
Despite her solid performance at the Championship, Brown can't help but look forward and notice the areas in which she can improve. One of these keys in on the mental aspect of cross country, as Brown noted that her mind wanders off at times, but only if she's running a good race. She said sometimes she'll think about what she's doing later that night, just something to distract her from the pain. It's when she's completely focused on the pain that her performance suffers.
The final part of the race is also where she feels she has to focus, particularly the final 200-meters. According to Brown, at that point it's all about digging in and crossing the line.
The Tigers will travel to Ames, Ia., next for the final regular season championship meet - the Midwest Regional Championship, where the teams will hope to extend their season into the NCAA Championship.
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