Nov. 1, 2013
LAKE CHARLES - Historically, the Lamar cross country program ranks as one of the most dominant forces in the Southland Conference, and 2013 further added to that legacy as both the men's and women's teams earned conference championships on Friday morning at the Ward 3 Recreation Complex.
Buoyed by fantastic showings from the duo of Matt Johnsen and Ash Harrell, an eye-popping five Cardinal men finished in the top 10 to secure a seventh title in eight years. Overall, the LU men have now captured 12 conference championships, further adding to their record total.
"Last year was my first year here and it was really disappointing to lose conference at home," cross country coach Darren Gauson said. "Right after that meet, we were looking to build towards today. We were fortunate enough to bring some people in and get some people healthy who were unable to participate last year. The guys have had some good races this year, but today, they really put together a team performance. They ran excellent."
On the women's side, Leigh Lattimore was the star as four Lady Cards placed in the top nine to win the school's first women's crown since taking home three in a row from 2004-06.
Overall, the LU men put up a score of 26, which is the best point total for the school since scoring 23 in the 1982 championships. The women posted a score of 36, which ranks as the second-best in school history.
Johnsen, a senior, cemented his place among the most impressive athletes in the conference's history, taking home the SLC individual title with a time of 24:38.8 for the eight-kilometer course. The Broulee, Australia, native was an All-American last season and is the only current cross country athlete to earn a spot on the SLC's 50th Anniversary Honor Roll, which was released earlier in the week.
"Matt's had an outstanding career and he's really going to be missed," Gauson said. "When you have a guy like that in your team, you feel really good about him because he's a very consistent performer. He did a great job leading the guys. He's our captain, and he got the team going and got them motivated today."
"We came out with a little bit of a vengeance today," Johnsen explained. "After last year's disappointing result, we really wanted to come out and prove ourselves as one of the better teams in the conference. We really did that today with five all-conference performances."
Johnsen is the first individual winner since Samuel Kosgei and Francis Kasagule won it back-to-back in 2008 and 2009. Overall, he's the seventh Cardinal to take home the honors. No other school has produced more individual winners.
Johnsen's primary competition on Friday proved to be that of a teammate as Harrell continued a strong first cross country season for the Cards. The Englishman finished with a time of 24:53.0, and a fellow countryman Sam Stabler wasn't far behind, ending fourth at 25:07.6.
"Myself and Ash talked about working together through at least half of the race," revealed Johnsen. "Then, without about 4K to go, it would be anyone's race. Although you don't want to have too much competition between your teammates, at the end of the day, there's a conference title on the line, and we're all competitive enough to want to win it."
The trio of Johnsen, Harrell and Stabler earned a spot on the All-SLC First Team.
Ryan Creech and Sean Guiney also took home conference honors, finishing ninth and 10th, respectively, at 25:30.9 and 25:38.5. Mike Kershaw completed the course in 25:53.7 to place 15th, and Sean Chalmers was 49th at 27:35.8.
Lattimore has been LU's top finisher in every race this season, and she was at the head of the pack once again on Friday, posting a time of 20:42.1 for the six-kilometer course to finish second. The England native spent much of the race dueling with Central Arkansas' Brooke Cassar, who went on to take the individual crown.
Lattimore saw much of her help come from LU's British contingent, beginning with Louise Webb, who joined Lattimore on the All-SLC First Team with a time of 21:17.4 and a fourth place showing. Rachel Robinson and Claire Arnold were each named to the Second Team after finishing seventh and ninth, respectively, at 21:41.2 and 21:59.6.
"All the girls have improved so much," Lattimore explained. "From day one until now, they've gotten so much better. We just wanted to go out and run hard today, and we were able to come together and win it. It was good, and I enjoyed it."
Kayla de Bondt rounded out the scoring for the Red and White, coming in 14th at 22:16.0.
Hannah Alderson was 23rd in her team debut with a time of 22:49.3, and the Texas duo of Megan Flanagan and Belinda Aguilar ended 30th and 42nd, respectively, at 23:06.9 and 23:33.4.
The LU women's four conference titles are tied for third all-time in conference history, and the combined total of 16 championships between the men and the women is the most earned by an SLC cross country program.
The teams will look to build on the performance later this month when they hit the road for Waco to participate in the NCAA South Central Regional.