BOCA RATON, Florida— The Southern Miss cross country team competed in the Conference USA championship race on Saturday, Oct. 27 and came away with a fourth-place finish.
“Today is not exactly what we were hoping for but that definitely wasn’t from a lack of effort from our girls part,” Head Coach Aaron Kindt. “I thought that our girls ran hard. You saw a lot of personal bests and season bests.”
UTEP won the meet placing four runners in the top 10 and posted a team score of 44 points. Middle Tennessee finished as runners-up with 48 points. Ahead of Southern Miss’ score of 91 points was Rice, which finished in third with a score of 74 points.
A tough drawback for the Golden Eagles was the course which was a two-loop 5K that featured a narrow start and a hill to finish the race.
“At the beginning, it was really packed because it narrowed really fast. It was a fast start but it is hard to run whenever you have so many people packed around you,” freshman Lina May said. “You kind of have to step through people. It does slow you down a bit. The hill wasn’t that bad. It was steep but we got up it fast.”
Leading the way for the Golden Eagles was junior Sandra Szpott who ran a personal record of 17:25 and finished in 10th place.
“[A] positive was Sandra’s spot in her first conference meet, 10th, and running with the lead pack the whole time and giving us a chance to have a front-runner,” Kindt said. “That girl wasn’t worried about time. That girl was trying to race the top as hard as she could.”
Behind Szpott was sophomore Kate Mattox, who ran 17:43 to finish in 13th place.
“Kate had been off to a slow start got a little banged up at the end of the summer,” Kindt said. “She’s been kind of clawing her way through these meets not with a tremendous base under her. Just seeing the effort and fight with some of these girls gets me excited for the future because I think once we kind of can put all the pieces together we can have a really good team.”
Following close behind and closing out the top five were juniors Emma-Kate Holdbrooks, Monika Gebarzewska and May who ran 18:01, 18:04 and 18:12 to finish in 20th, 22nd and 24th place.
Junior Regen McGee ran 18:39 to finish in 37th place and senior Victoria Hoppe ran 18:45 to finish in 43rd place to round out the top seven for the Golden Eagles. Junior Theresa Harto ran 18:57 to finish in 49th and senior Madeleine Bell ran 19:34 to finish in 67th.
The highlight of the race was Holdbrooks’ and May’s performance. Holdbrooks has had a great season and finished as Third Team All-Conference C-USA.
“Emma-Kate Holdbrooks, she goes from being 40th last year to 20th this year,” Kindt said. “That’s just a girl who has worked her butt off the last two and a half years to get to this point. She went from barely being able to hang our team on runs and now she’s one of our best runners. That just kind of shows the commitment some of these girls have to our program.”
May, just a freshman, impressively ran a personal record and was just three spots away from finishing as all-conference.
“Lina May our top freshman from Vancleave, Mississippi, is a girl that no one knew about,” Kindt said. “She had some success in Mississippi but for the most part, no one knew what she was capable of doing and being right there top 25 in her first conference use meet and having a shot to be all-conference shows the potential she has. I’m really excited about her future.”
Szpott finished Second Team All-Conference C-USA and Mattox finished Third Team All-Conference C-USA.
“A little disappointed that we couldn’t repeat on what we did last year finishing in the top two but like I said we went up against some heavy hitters and we did our best. We came up short but I’m proud of them,” Kindt said. “I’m proud of this group and what they accomplished this year and I’m excited with what they will do.”
Southern Miss will travel to Tallahassee, Florida to race in the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 2.