CONCORDIA, Kansas — With the 2017 cross country season set to begin this Friday evening at the Terry Masterson Classic in Hutchinson, the Cloud County Community College men's and women's squads will resume their annual quest to challenge for Region VI/KJCCC and NJCAA hardware.
A new season always breeds optimism. But with the T-Birds' blend of experience and young talent, head coach Drew Mahin said he has high expectations for what his teams can accomplish this fall.
"With the group of returners we have and the freshmen coming in, we have the potential to have one of the best years we've had within in the men's program," Mahin said. "We should have some really bright spots on the women's side, as well."
Cloud returns a pair of NJCAA DI All-Americans from a season ago in sophomores Moses Dirane and Thobile Mosito. Dirane finished second at the national meet as a freshman with a time of 24 minutes, 25.32 seconds, while Mosito earned a 12th-place finish.
Mahin said the South African duo has been focused all summer on improving those 2016 marks.
"Ever since track season ended, they took a couple weeks off, then they both spent some time back home in South Africa and their whole focus back home was getting back in training with coaches who helped get them here (Cloud County)," Mahin said. "It was all geared up to 'we're going to have a strong men's program this season.' Seeing those guys focus right away from the middle of the summer was really fun. They have their expectations set really high."
The T-Birds will have a ton of competition for spots behind Dirane and Mosito as they feature sophomores Stephen Marindich, transfer Omari Miller and Anthony Nunez. Cloud will also welcome in a talented freshmen class consisting of Burke Deters, Deontre Hardiman, Jeremy Ragsdale and Longins Kouri.
"All those newcomers can all be competing for the 3-7 spots and be interchangeable there," Mahin said. "Those are definitely the freshmen we're putting big expectations on right now and see how they respond."
On the women's side, Cloud County is paced by sophomore Thandeka Manzana.
After a freshman season littered with nagging injuries, Mahin said Manzana is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season.
"I'm expecting Thandeka to have a breakthrough season," Mahin said. "Last year was a little disappointing for her with some injuries. But she has been training really diligently the last two months, doubling up on workouts, and putting more energy into being a leader for the other girls."
The 2017 season will also provide some unique opportunities for the Cloud County student-athletes as the T-Birds will head to Colorado College in Colorado Springs on Sept. 9 where they will run on the same training course used by current and past Olympians.
Another regular season date Cloud County has circled on its calendars is the Lucian Rosa Invitational on October 7 on the University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus. Not only is it an event Cloud County has historically thrived in — former T-Birds Benard Keter and Kellyn (Johnston) Taylor are past winners — but this year's trip has an added perk.
"We will actually get to watch the Chicago Marathon the next morning before we head back," Mahin said. "The meet itself will help get the kids out of their comfort zone since they will be competing against top NCAA Division I, Division II and Division III schools. We've always had a really good meet there."
The season will culminate with the KJCCC/Region VI Championships on Monday, Oct. 30 in Garden City, and then the NJCAA Championships 12 days later in Fort Dodge, Iowa.