Jan. 26, 2005
Worst to first. Only a handful of teams, professional or otherwise, have been able to rebound from a last place finish to a championship. Of those that have accomplished such a feat, even fewer have pulled it off in only three short years.
The Lamar women's cross country team made history on Monday, Nov. 1, when it raced to its first conference title in school history with a convincing victory at the 20th Annual Southland Conference Cross Country Championships held at Idylwild Golf Club in Pinewood. It was the first year the women's team had ever hosted the event and it came only three years after finishing last at the 2002 SLC Championships.
Under the leadership of head track and field coach Trey Clark ('93, '95) and the guidance of assistant coach Sita Waru, the 2004 Lady Cardinal Cross Country team reached the status of conference elite after three years of hard work and determination.
"Since I got the job (Aug. 2002), I started recruiting athletes that I thought could help us win a championship," Waru, a former four-time SLC Cross Country Champion at McNeese, said. "I've been trying to tell the girls to put in the hard work, the dedication and just to make them believe in themselves that they could win.
"I think the biggest accomplishment for me was my first year the girls got last in conference and I knew we could only get better. The next year they finished third and this year they got first, so they've really, really come a long way and it feels great."
Two of the most instrumental members of the this year's championship team were Natasha Williams and Jackie John. Williams, a junior from Nederland, had her best-ever finish in a conference meet as she raced to a second-place finish with a time of 21:24. John, a junior from Iowa, Louisiana, finished only seconds behind in a time of 21:43 for third place. Both runners earned All-SLC honors for their efforts, which are given to the top 10 finishers in the conference race.
"We've put a lot of hard work in and Sita has been setting us up to do well. She's been giving us great workouts," Williams explained. "We've just been relying on each other in the workouts, so we've had pretty good preparation.
"Since we knew we had a better chance (to win) this year, we put a lot of hard work in with 6:30 (a.m.) practices Monday through Thursday, even Monday through Friday sometimes and two times a day every day."
In her third full season at Lamar, Williams has emerged as one of the top distance runners on the team and her hard work hasn't gone unnoticed.
"She's finally put it all together. She finally started having more confidence in herself and working hard everyday she comes out to practice," Waru bragged. "I know her goal was to be at least all-conference, which was top 10, so to get second was a real accomplishment.
"I've had the opportunity to really develop her and we (Clark & Waru) kind of knew it was going to be the year she could break through since it was her junior year and she had two years underneath her already."
A mass communications major, Williams was understandably happy to be a part of the Lady Cardinals' championship team.
"This is the best feeling in the world," she excitedly described. "When it actually happens and you actually win, it's an amazing feeling and not too many people get that experience."
John, who is in her first full season with Lamar after transferring from Texas A&M, has also had a major impact on the success of the cross country team. A former high school All-American, John has been a positive influence all season, helping with the development of a relatively young team.
"She's been really focused," Waru said of John. "She wanted it (a title) really bad and she helped encourage the girls at the beginning of the season so they could get there."
John was the Lady Cardinals' top finisher in all four races leading up to the SLC meet and her leadership was a driving force in the success of this year's team.
"The majority of our workouts are hardcore and we come out here and we work to the best of our ability," John stated. "We all have the will to win, basically, but we didn't really actually know how strongly each other felt until the race, when we all just gutted it out and gave it everything we had."
Now that the Lady Cardinals have earned a conference title, the team and staff look to maintain that level of success in the future. With the top five runners returning from this season's team, there's even talk of more conference titles in the very near future.
"I think this is just the start of it," Waru said of the future. "I see us winning every year or at least being competitive for the title. I have a young team and I only lose one girl this year (Candace Taylor). We've got a recruiting class coming next year, three or four girls that are only going to help."
"We're going to try and win it again next year," Williams said. "I hope this is a continuation, as long as Sita and Coach Clark are coaching. This is a new thing for Lamar. There is a winning spirit now and everybody's going to want to win."
With 16 years at Lamar under his belt as a student, athlete and now coach, Clark and his crew are definitely making strides towards returning LU to its glory days. Waru has helped build the first-ever women's cross country championship team and Lamar's history has been forever altered for the better.
"Nobody else will be the first one to win for LU," Williams added. "We're the first ones and that's pretty cool. We changed it (history)."
They certainly did.