CORPUS CHRISTI – The defending Southland Conference Texas A&M - Corpus Christi women's cross country champions are looking to carry over their momentum from last season into this season after clinching their fourth title in five years. The Islanders men's team returns everyone from a team that placed third last season at the conference meet.
"We have kind of a diametrically different situation with the men's and the women's teams," Head Coach Shawn Flanagan said. "The women are coming off their fourth title in five years in the Southland. We lost four out of the top five, but we bring back a good group of kids led by our leading returner BreAnna Briggs. We also return Cecilia Jones, Vanessa Galindo and Shelby Polasek. Those are probably are top returners. We bring in a bunch of talented young ladies. We actually have four from Corpus Christi, Alexandra Fernandez (Carroll HS), Regina Salinas (Incarnate Word HS), Kim Ward (Moody HS), Paola Perez (Flour Bluff HS) and Ashley Mills (Kingwood HS)."
The No. 11 South Central Regional ranked Islanders lost top runner Kristine Burciaga, who finished second at the conference meet last season. However, returners Briggs and Jones are expected to fill the void in the top two spots. Briggs clocked a 19th-place finish last season at the conference meet while Jones placed second at the Islanders Splash.
"With that group of kids that we have, hopefully we can forge together a good group and right now looking at the Southland on the women's side looks pretty open," Flanagan said. "So I think we have as good of a chance as anybody else."
The No. 6 South Central Regional ranked men return two-time Southland Conference Champion and reigning Southland Conference Athlete of the Year Patrick Kimeli, who qualified for the NCAA National Championships for the second straight year. Kimeli helped lead the men's team to a third-place finish at the conference meet.
"On the men's side, it's a different situation," Flanagan said. "We have everybody back. Last year, we had one junior and six freshmen, now we have one senior and six sophomores and we added one talented transfer from UTEP, Abel Koskey, and he's joining Patrick Kimeli. I think those two might be our top runners but we also have back Christoph Hintz, Philipp Baar, Valentinas Rudys, Julian Pfeiffer, Brandon Lacy, Paul Hansel, Adrian Marquez, Justin Adame and Daniel Barlow. We have a very experienced team coming back. However, we are facing six-time defending champ Lamar.
"It's going to be very challenging. I think we might have our best team ever," Flanagan said. "It's going to be very good."
The Islanders have won a total of eight titles as a team out of 11 conference meets. Before joining the Southland, the Islanders won four as a Division I independent.
"Looking beyond the conference meet, at the regional meet I'm looking for improvements and placements on both the men's and women's teams," Flanagan added. "Patrick qualified last year. We are hoping he can do it again and hopefully he can have some company so we can have more than one person at the national meet in cross country. If the planets align right and everything goes perfectly perhaps one of our two teams can qualify as well."
The Islanders will open the season on Friday, August 31, at the Bronc Relays, hosted by Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas. Last season the men's and women's cross country squads had a strong performance, with the men's team garnering the top four spots, while the women claimed four of five.
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