CONCORDIA, Kansas — Saturday marks the start of championship season for the Cloud County Community College cross country teams as the T-Birds will make their way to the KJCCC/Region VI Championships held at Westar Energy Prairie Ridge Park in Hutchinson, KS.
The grueling task of conquering the rough and winding course can be more frightening than anything runners will see this Halloween weekend.
"It's a diverse course with lots of turns. The last time we ran there was three years ago when Benard Keter won the conference championship as a freshman," said Cloud County head coach, Drew Mahin. "We haven't seen the course or been there lately and it is a tough course. It has sandy soil, so you can see a lot of twisted ankles. It's a true cross country course. It will definitely test the athletes and we're not going to be setting any records. If you PR there, you're going to have to earn every little bit of it."
There are no national qualifying standards for runners to earn a spot in next week's NJCAA Championships in El Dorado, Kansas. Each program sets its own standards. For the T-Birds, Mahin said he wants to see the women's team to run in the 21:30 range, while the bar is set at the 29-minute mark for the men's team in their 8K.
But even with those goals in mind, Mahin said times are of little importance during Saturday's Region VI Championships.
"At conference, who cares what the times are? We're going after places," Mahin said. "We're fighting for each individual spot and that's a great lesson to teach our kids when we get into championship season. You throw worrying about times out the window and it's more about the competitive spirit and going after another jersey."
Cloud County has a handful of runners expected to do just that. On the men's side, freshmen Moses Dirane, Stephen Marindich and Thobile Mosito are all threats to compete for a conference championship and lead the T-Birds to a top-5 team finish.
"The guys have a great opportunity of going from one of the bottom half teams in the conference the last couple of years to the top-5," Mahin said. "I think top-5 in the region is very doable and if we can do that, it'll be a great accomplishment for us and builds momentum going into the national meet."
Sophomore Stephanie Barrett, who was the runner-up finisher in last year's conference championship with a time of 19:10. 96, is expected to again be in the mix at the front of the pack.
"I see myself running a low 19-second time and my aim is top-3, but I'm going to push for the conference championship," Barrett said. "I'm going to push to go with whoever is at the front."
Barrett, along with fellow sophomore Camila Faundez, will lead a young women's team that Mahin believes could be a surprise team this season.
"Getting all five of our girls at the 21:30 or lower mark is going to be a huge standard to hit to finish top-5 in the conference," Mahin said. "The girls should be much improved from last year and Stephanie Barrett has a great shot to finish in the top-3 and possibly fight for a championship."
Region VI Championship awards will be given to the top 15 men and women finishers, and the top three teams. East and West Jayhawk Conference awards are given to the top seven men and women finishers, and each championship team.
The women's 5K race is scheduled to start at 10 a.m., with the men's 8K race to follow at 11 a.m.