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 the women's victory and the men's 7th place finish at the meet in Santa Clara, Calif. as well as their outlook for the WAC Championship meet at the end of the month.
bleedCrimson.net: Talk about your kids' performance this past weekend at Santa Clara. The women's team won the meet and the men's team finished five places better than last year at 7th.
Paul Harkins: The men are still running tough. They had a five spot improvement from last year. They were 12th a year ago and finished 7th this year out of 17 teams. We had five guys run faster than our number one did a year ago. They're steadily getting better. With such a young group it's very exciting to see and project what they're going to do in a couple of years. We had five freshmen, four sophomores and one junior in our top 10 that we took to Santa Clara this weekend. They had a good meet. They're capable of more but we're going to rest up the next couple of weeks and get them ready for conference. We'll cut back their mileage just a little bit and get them ready to go.
On the women's side, they were absolutely fantastic. The women were fifth a year ago and this year they came in and had an absolutely dominating performance. They won the meet by 40 points over San Francisco and it was exciting. We had three girls in the top seven and one more in the top 20 and our fifth scorer was in the top 25. It was very exciting. Just to see where these kids have come from, where the team has come from and to go out and have a win at a major invitational like that is very exciting.
bc.net: Would you consider this one of your best performances in the three seasons you've been at New Mexico State considering that last fall the men's and women's team both won the ASU meet.
PH: I would say so. The meet at ASU that was exciting, it was a milestone for our program. I don't think both genders had won the same meet ever in the history of our program so that was exciting for sure. The competition level there though compared to where we were this weekend wasn't quite as good. It's exciting to get a win at a meet like Santa Clara. There were 17 teams there, this was the biggest meet west of the Mississippi this weekend. You had a ton of schools out of California there, up and down the west coast there were a lot of good schools there. There were a large number of WAC schools there as well. There were five schools there from the WAC on the women's side, the closest of which was Nevada who was 117 points behind us. To have lost to Nevada in this meet and at conference last year on the women's side and then to come out and beat them by that much it definitely bodes well for us heading into conference in two weeks.
It was a great performance, I think there is more in the tank on both sides. The women came out and they executed the race plan perfectly. We couldn't have been more proud of them.
bc.net: We've talked a lot in the last couple of weeks about all these meets leading up to the WAC and Regional meets building confidence for your teams. What does being able to have a performance like this the meet before the WAC championships do for the confidence of the teams.
PH: They are fired up and ready to go. It gives me great confidence. The girls, they're a little more reserved than I am at times but they now know that they are going to be one of the teams to beat. Nevada was potentially one of the favorites, Boise State is building, they weren't quite there this past weekend. Hawai'i has a couple of girls that ran pretty well. We have a lot of confidence going forward. Just being able to go out there and run the way we did. And it wasn't surprising. They all knew what they were capable of doing. I think that's the biggest thing. They all went out and just did what they were capable of doing and did what they were expected to do and what they expected of themselves. They went out and had a big win. This is going to be huge for confidence going into conference in two weeks.
On the men's side, they now know where they think they're going to finish. We were hoping for top four and we still are which would be a two spot improvement from a year ago. They definitely know what they need to do. Confidence wise for the men, they know they didn't run their best possible race, they ran well, but they now know top four is attainable for them.
Everybody is confident, everybody is excited and everybody is ready to go. They believe in what they're doing right now and we can't wait to lace 'em up in two weeks.
bc.net: What kind of preparation are you going to be doing over the next two weeks in preparation for the WAC tournament? Will you change anything from last year or will it be essentially the same?
PH: It will be similar. I think last year we cut back a lot in terms of mileage and really kind of rested them up a lot. I don't know that we're going to rest them as much as we did last year. We will rest them, just not quite as much. I think we cut back and they were flat because it might have been a shock to the system to drop down as much as they did.
This year the women are going to stay pretty steady. We'll drop them a little bit but our focus is Conference and Regionals also. The men want to run well at Regionals also but their main focus is going to be Conference.
They're ready to go, we're just going to cut back the mileage a little bit to make sure there's a bit more snap in their legs and to give them just a little bit of a breather from the intense miles and make sure they feel good and are ready to go.
bc.net: What will the course setup in Reno for the WAC meet be like?
PH: I haven't seen the course setup yet but I think it's set up to be a pretty good spectator friendly course which means there's going to be quite a few loops for the athletes to run. The only thing is on the men's side being a longer distance than the women, they will have to run several loops. You could potentially run the risk of checking out in the middle of that because you're running loop after loop after loop. It's kind of like on the track, you've got to make sure you're focused the whole time. I think that's going to be an issue, it's conference championship time, they come to run, they're going to be focused for sure.