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Cross Country Has High Hopes for 2012; Libby Invitational on Saturday

<font size="2"><span style="font-size:10pt;">McMurry University cross country head coach David Chandler and his War Hawks teams will carry a fresh-faced look into their first season as an NCAA Division II competitor in 2012. McM steps off its season on Saturday (Sept. 8) by hosting the Bill Libby Invitational at Nelson Park, with the women's race at 8 a.m. and men at 8:30 a.m. (followed by high school and junior high races).</span></font>
ABILENE, Texas - McMurry University cross country head coach David Chandler and his War Hawks teams will carry a fresh-faced look into their first season as an NCAA Division II competitor in 2012. McM steps off its season on Saturday (Sept. 8) by hosting the Bill Libby Invitational at Nelson Park, with the women's race at 8 a.m. and men at 8:30 a.m. (followed by high school and junior high races).

While both squads are young in terms of roster year, don't feel too bad for the teams as each returns some key talent heading into 2012. The biggest loss suffered by either was the graduation of women's team member - and American Southwest Conference individual champion - Alaisha Guerra to graduation.

"The women will be in good shape," said Chandler, in his 10th season at the War Hawks' helm. "We've had some good additions. Obviously we lost Alaisha this past year, but she is going to be my assistant coach and will be great to have around.

"Things should come together real good for us. They are all in good condition coming in. We want to minimize the injuries, and maximize the performance and the ability level.

"The enthusiasm is high and it's going to be good. The 'transition' is not going to be a big deal."

In all, Chandler returns four female runners from his 2011 team: Seniors Kursten Draper and Brittney McGuire, along with sophomores Alyssa Fields and Chantel Ruffin. Lauren Peery - a member of the McM track team last year - is joining the team this season after last running cross country in high school in 2010.

Draper and McGuire placed 14th and 19th, respectively, at the ASC championships in 2011. After Guerra, Fields was McMurry's top finisher in 12th place and was also the co-winner of the ASC's "Outstanding Sportsmanship" award.

Ruffin was 24th at the ASC meet in 2011.

Among the newcomers to the women's team is junior transfer Christine Allen (Des Moines Area C.C.) from Iowa. The rest of the incoming class includes freshmen Mary Affleck, Cecillia Ramirez and Carissa Terry.

On the men's side, there is plenty of experience returning despite no seniors on the roster.

"We're excited about what's going on with the men's team," said Chandler. "We are pretty young and it's important that we learn quick. It's important that we get through the 'learning curve' to get to where we take care of our bodies and train/race like we are juniors and seniors.

"The expectations are high, but I think these guys can handle that. Quite a few of these guys have come to our camps and got an inside look on how we do things. I really feel good about them."

Chandler's only returnees on the men's front are all freshmen, but were his top finishers at last year's ASC conference meet.

Michael Dowd earned all-ASC second team honors with an 11th place finish, while teammate Naoshi Okamoto was 14th in the race. Dowd was also the 10,000 meter champion in the ASC for track in the spring. Spenser Patterson also returns and track team member Dustin Jaramillo will compete in cross country for the first season in 2012.

Newcomers include junior transfer Shane Floyd (Lon Morris College), along with a huge cache of freshmen that is made up of Colt Carlton, Hector Flores, Trent Fulk, Brandon Porter, Luke Scribner, Evan Sperling and Anthony Todd.

"The thing that we're really pushing is commitment from start to finish," explained Chandler.  "I think that everybody is a little bit on their seat a little bit to see what this is all about; that's good.  I want to be pushed out of my comfort zone and it's healthy to be pushed out of theirs. It's going to be a positive thing."

The War Hawks' slate of competition starts out by hosting the Bill Libby Invitational (Sept. 8). The team will then get a taste of some upper-division competition in back-to-back meets at the Missouri Southern Stampede (Sept. 15) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboy Jamboree (Sept. 29). McM returns to a familiar race when it travels to the Mississippi College Invitational (Oct. 13), before embarking on a brand new event for the team at Berea College's (Ky.) Southeastern Classic (Oct. 20).

A 5K race on campus for Homecoming (Oct. 27) will permit the teams to become involved with campus festivities that weekend as well as prep them for another new competition to close out the season.

The National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) meet is a unique blend, as national competitions go. Whereas, the NCAA meets consist of dinner and the races, the NCCAA tries to touch all aspects of the competitors: spiritual, social and physical. Prior to the meet all the competitors work together on a service project, before dining and then competing as a part of the weekend (Nov. 10).

As far as this Saturday's Bill Libby Invitational goes, the meet has special significance for Chandler, who competed under Libby in the early years of the program's history and also served as his assistant coach.

"Every year we like too make sure that Bill Libby feels appreciated for all the years he put into the cross country team here at McMurry. (The Libby Invitational) is something we will always continue to do."
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