The Aggie women's cross country team enters the 2010 season in an unfamiliar, yet welcome position: Defending WAC champions. From a sixth place finish in 2007 to a disappointing fourth place finish in 2008 with the conference meet being held at home in Las Cruces, the Aggies erased that disappointment by winning the championship meet last year behind a one-two finish from freshmen twin sisters Courtney and Camille Schultz.
Losing just two members from that championship team from a year ago, the expectations are even higher heading into this season. Back for the 2010 campaign are the Schultz sisters along with Chelsa McDonnell and Brittany Hurtado who finished 9th and 10th respectively at the conference championship meet last season. "Chelsa's running right there with the Schultz's right now and has really raised her level of dedication and her level of expectations of herself as well," said Coach Harkins. "Brittany Hurtado had an illness this summer but is back and doing really well. I think she's is running better than she was at this point in time last year."
The Aggies have added 11 new runners on the women's side including a junior college transfer from Moorpark Community College who head coach Park Harkins expects to compete for a top five spot on the squad.
The Aggies also expect a pair of talented freshmen, Jenna Padilla (Rio Rancho, N.M.) and Samantha Hamilton (Halfmoon Bay, Calif.) to come in and contribute immediately as well. "Jenna Padilla was third at state in cross country out of the big class in New Mexico last year," said Coach Harkins. "Samantha and Jenna are working really well with Brittany [Hurtado] right now. If we can get two freshmen who are running where Brittany did last year, she finished 10th in conference last year, we're excited."
Rounding out the group of newcomers are Christiana Barela (Albuquerque, N.M.), Camille Davis (Albuquerque, N.M.), Natalie Gomez (Albuquerque, N.M.), Rylie Hightower (Albuquerque, N.M.), Kayla Nagunst (Rainier, Ore), Carly Porter (Albuquerque, N.M.), Gael Sanchez (Albuquerque, N.M.) and Kessi Walsh (Albuquerque, N.M.).
The Aggies' goals also reach higher than just winning the conference title. "Our goal since we've gotten here is to take our programs to the top of the conference and beyond to the regional and national level," said Coach Harkins "That's what a lot of the girls are thinking about this season." Both Courtney and Camille Schultz should be strong contenders to qualify for nationals this season. "Both of them have aspirations of going to the national meet," said Coach Harkins.
The Aggies have structured this season's schedule to try to meet those goals. "Our schedules have changed around a little more trying to give our teams a little bit more of an opportunity to see more teams out of the region," said Coach Harkins. "We want to see more teams that will potentially be at the national championships and hopefully get to that level as well."
The Aggies will open the season in Albuquerque, N.M. this weekend at the Lobo Invitational where the coaching staff will get their first good look at the defending champions. "We expect big things and we're excited for the year."