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    SFA Gears Up For Cross Country Championships
    The Lumberjacks and Ladyjacks will take to the trail on Monday when they host the 2011 SLC Cross Country Championships.
    The Lumberjacks and Ladyjacks will take to the trail on Monday when they host the 2011 SLC Cross Country Championships.

    Oct. 30, 2011

    NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin cross country teams will be at it again on Monday, trying to defend not only a conference title but it's home turf when it hosts the 2011 Southland Conference Cross Country Championships at Piney Woods Country Club.

    SFA has been solid in its early-season showings, racing twice in the past month in leading up to Monday's championships. Still, the Ladyjacks will have to step up their game if they expect to defend their league crown, while the men's squad is gunning for its first SLC title since the 2005 season

    "Both the guys and girls have done a great job of competing in the pre-conference portion of the season, but it is all to gear up for Monday," SFA head cross country coach Cody Clark said. "This is what we race for - conference and regionals."

    Junior Lauren Smith has been a standout all season for the Ladyjacks, finishing in the top five in each of her three competitions of the season, including taking first place at the SLC Pre-Conference Meet in a course-record time of 21:34.25 at Piney Woods CC.

    "What can you say about Lauren so far this year?," Clark said. "She is one of the top runners in this region and she has a chance to really make her mark on the national stage this year if she continues as she has been going."

    But even with Smith leading the way, to defend its 2010 title the Ladyjacks will need a strong showing from their corps of underclassmen as each of SFA's five remaining female runners in the race have two or less seasons of experience at the collegiate level. Still, with Randi Plentl, Becca Blubaugh, and Laurie Byrd having shown well to this point of the year, Clark has plenty of optimism that his youthful squad could turn some heads on the big stage.

    "The girls we have are all very capable of having their best race of the season on Monday, and with the competition as good as it is in this league, that is what we will need from them," Clark said.

    On the men's side, a deep Lumberjack team led by Adam Saloom will be challenged by a league that includes five of the region's top 15 squads. Saloom has been stellar all season as well for Clark's Lumberjacks, and also had a good showing earlier this year at Piney Woods, finishing sixth overall and third among SLC competition in the SLC Pre-Conference Meet last month.

    Aside from Saloom, the `Jacks will field a balanced squad with up to six runners of which Clark feels could round out the SFA top five. Nathan Collier and Moses Luevano have alternated being the second and third Lumberjacks to cross the line in both the SLC Pre-Conference Meet and the Alabama Crimson Classic, and according to Clark, are running strong heading into Monday's competition.

    Hunter Russell, Harmon McClanahan, Jonus Rodriguez and Ryan Tilotta round out the rest of the men's roster with Russell, McClanahan and Rodriguez having put up scoring finishes in pre-conference.

    "I'm pleased with what the guys have done so far," Clark said. "Adam is just having a great year, but the depth of our roster I think really gives us a chance to turn some heads at conference."

    The meet will begin at 9:00 a.m. with the women's 6,000-meter race, followed by the men's 8,000-meter trek at 9:45 at Piney Woods Country Club.