bleedCrimson.net will be conducting regular interviews with the New Mexico State cross country coaching staff as the Aggies enter their third season under head coach Orin Richburg. We spoke with assistant coach Paul Harkins about the men's and women's cross country squads and got the coaching staff's outlook on the 2009 season. The Aggies return just about everyone from their 2008 squad and have high expectations for this year's group.
bleedCrimson.net: Talk about your squad. You lost just two seniors on the men's side and one on the women's side.
Paul Harkins: We definitely loaded up. The men we brought in six new freshmen to replace the two seniors and three of them are capable right off the bat of running in our top five. On the women's side we brought in six or seven new freshmen also and right now we have seven girls of capable of running as well as our top three did last year.
On the men's side we loaded up with a solid group of freshmen, probably some of the best freshmen coming out of the state of New Mexico last year. Kevin Palmer was second in the Big Class at the state meet to his brother. Ryan Fenton has had some tremendous performances. I think he was second in the state two years ago and I think fourth in the 3-A division. Robert Self didn't have as good a cross country season as I think he would have liked but then he had a breakthrough season in the track season. Jonah Ruybalid who is the brother of Ian Ruybalid who led us last year, also had a really good track season last year and set some good PRs.
On the women's side we added a freshman from Colorado, Samantha Thompson, who came in and last year ran 2:10 (800m) and 4:56 (1600m) in the state meet as a high school record as a senior, set the state high school record. It's pretty exciting because her times are already equal to conference championship type times on the track and is also pretty solid on cross country. We also brought in two girls who were originally from the state of New Mexico who went to Oklahoma State, Courtney and Camille Schultz, they ran out of Cloudcroft High School. They're going to be very big impact players for us as well. We've got another girl coming in from Oregon, Chelsea McDonnell, who really did her homework over the summer and has shown she can potentially run in our top five or top seven right off the bat also. We have a tremendous group of walk on kids from in the state, Emma Hamilton from Santa Fe Prep, Adrienne Larson from Los Alamos and Caitlin Osborn from St. Pius in Albuquerque. It's a really good group, positive all around and talented all around. It's really exciting.
bc.net: Who are the top returners for your men's and women's teams?
PH: On the men's side Ian Ruybalid was an All-Conference guy for us last year, Anthony Ellis wasn't far off of him. Michael Hart has done a great job for us and is a tremendous leader and is really coming into his own as a junior this year. Terry Williams redshirted for us last year and is going to be very valuable for us as a redshirt freshman this year. Marcus Porter and Kevin Taft did a tremendous job of maturing as freshmen and working their tails off to become very strong sophomores.
On the women's side Ingrid Flores has been a multiple time All-Conference player for us. Brandi Gutierrez is the top returner for us in cross country. She finished 4th overall last year [at the WAC Championships] she's doing well for us right now. Amy Arenas finished 2nd indoors in the 5K, 2nd outdoors in the 10K and came back and finished 6th in the 5K outdoors. Brittany Hurtado was an All-Conference girl in the 1500m and is looking phenomenally better than she was at this time a year ago.
The returners are stepping up their game and the freshmen and newcomers we brought in are really tough as well.
bc.net: The WAC Championships were in Las Cruces last year and the teams didn't quite have the results they were hoping for, how much has the team talked about that and been using that as motivation heading into this season?
PH: The men and women, they both continue to improve but yeah, we weren't exactly happy with how we finished last year. The men are potentially capable, the goal is Top 4, I know we're capable of Top 5, we were sixth a year ago. They are getting better, they're another year older and it's still a young team. They're doing a great job.
On the women's side we were 4th a year ago up from 6th the year before that, yeah it's still an improvement but we weren't happy with that, we weren't satisfied with that. We thought we were a Top 3 team and I think this year we are definitely capable of more than that. Looking at who's returned from other teams in the conference, it just depends on who got tremendous newcomers but I definitely think we're capable of being a Top 3 team this year and we definitely have trophy aspirations as well.
bc.net: Talk a little bit about your schedule this year, last year both the men and women won the meet you had at Arizona State and for the men's team it was their first team win in several seasons.
PH: It's a little disappointing that we're not going back there this year. We just took it off our schedule because Arizona State changed the format. They decided to run just 5000m for the men instead of the 8000m that we're used to and that we race typically. Having a young team I think it's good to have freshmen and sophomores running 8000m races to make sure that they're used to it and can handle it. So we're not going back there, instead we're going to Oklahoma State for the Cowboy Jamboree with our men's and women's team. The competition level is going to be higher but our teams are getting better and at this point in time in our stage of development for our teams it's time to see some additional competition, some teams out of region and to step up our game so we can compete with those teams out of region. We're hoping to be going to the National meet down the line. If we want to go to the National meet we've got to go race people that will be there and see what it's like and see what it takes.
bc.net: This weekend you open the season up in Albuquerque at the Lobo Cross Country Invitational. What are you looking for in terms of milestone and benchmarks in the first weekend?
PH: We're definitely a better team than we were a year ago. With the newcomers we have coming in, we are holding out a couple people. The Schultz girls are not running for us this weekend. Despite that we are definitely capable of running better than we did a year ago. The workouts are showing that the girls are in shape. Without the Schultz girls we have five girls who are capable of running where our top three were running a year ago. We were second a year ago, first meets are hard to say because not everybody runs their top kids. They're resting them here and there. I expect us to be competitive. I think we can be Top 2 again, UNM and UTEP has good teams as they always do. We beat UTEP last year and we weren't too far from UNM last year. I think we can mix it up with both of them again and be Top 2 for sure. Our stronger performances though are going to be down the road.
On the men's side, UNM and UTEP both have very strong teams. UNM went to the National meet last year and UTEP should have but they had one guy drop out and that hurt them badly last year but they still had a number of individuals qualify. They're going to have a strong team again this year. We were third last year, we're hoping for third again this year.
bc.net: Your program's profile has continued to increase from year to year, talk about some of the improvements you've seen from the first year to this year.
PH: It's amazing. We're so excited going to practice every day. The attitudes of the teams are fantastic, the work ethic is fantastic. The talent level is fantastic. We're just excited to see what they can do once they put on the spikes and lace up the singlets and get ready to do battle out on the cross country course. It's exciting because you see where you were three years ago and you wouldn't even recognize the team, not just with the new faces but with the attitudes and the work ethic and talent level. It's totally changed.