The Texas State cross country team went through what some may call an unfortunate event this summer.
Bryan Jackson, the team’s head coach for the past four seasons, left Texas State to accept a job in Pittsburgh. Jackson’s departure happened less than two weeks before the Bobcats’ first meet of the season.
Giles McDonnell stepped up to replace Jackson.
New coach? No problem for the Texas State cross-country team.
“It’s difficult when you lose a coach basically a week before the season starts,” McDonnell said. “The way they’ve handled it is pretty impressive.”
The Bobcats remain determined despite Jackson’s departure. Joseph Pena, senior runner, is nothing less than ready for the beginning of this season and the Texas Invitational in Austin, Texas which begins Friday.
“It’s been a little different, since we obviously don’t have a distance coach,” Pena said. “The way we’re getting prepared for this race is basically going off of last year’s regimen and just kind of tweaking it to our fitness this year.”
Pena wasn’t the only runner following Jackson’s system from last season. Nikki Sanchez, sophomore runner, has been going by the former coach’s plans as well.
“I kind of stuck to what our previous coach had planned,” Sanchez said. “I’m feeling the best I’ve ever felt.”
The Texas State men’s team was ranked seventh, while the women placed eighth in the Sun Belt Conference Cross Country preseason poll.
“The team itself despite the ranking, looks a lot better than what it is,” Pena said.
Regardless of their ranking or not having a distance coach, the Bobcats are in high gear this season and ready to get things done. The team faces Texas in the invitational this week.
The invitational is a dual-meet format at the Balcones-Spicewood Cross Country course. The women’s race begins at 6:15, with the men’s race beginning at 6:45.
“I think it’s always fun running against Texas and big schools because it’s like you want to show that you’re just as good as them if not better,” Sanchez said. “I’m excited to do it.”
The Longhorns men’s team received 22 votes in this year’s NCAA Division I Cross Country rankings.
“Whenever you get to race UT especially in a dual meet atmosphere it feels really good,” Pena said. “It means that we’re no longer the underdog, that we’re a force. We’re done proving (it). Now we just gotta back it up.”
Texas State has experienced returning runners like Jose Angel Gonzales, sophomore runner, who competed at the NCAA South Central Regional Cross Country Championship last season. As well as junior Alec Saucedo and Pena who were both all conference in 2014.
McDonnell, a sprints and hurdles coach, has already witnessed what this team is capable of. McDonnell said the team’s biggest strength is their self-discipline and ability to accept the challenge.
“What I’ve seen from them is just a bunch of athletes that are determined to be good no matter the situation,” McDonnell said. “It doesn’t matter who your coach is at the moment, you could have the greatest distance coach or you could have a novice, but at the end of the day the person doing the work is gonna be yourself.”
Follow Autumn Anderson on Twitter at @aaautumn_.