The University of Central Arkansas men's cross country adapted the best to the unbelievably wet and muddy conditions on Saturday and won its first Southland Conference cross country championship on a soggy morning at Enos Derbonne Sports Complex.
UCA placed two runners in the Top 10 with second-team All-SLC honors in senior Markus Schweikert in ninth (27:12.8) and sophomore Alex Hanson in 10th (27:17.2).) and finished with 57 points to edge five-time defending champion Lamar (64) for the title.
UCA had five runners in the Top 15 over the 8K course to top their fourth-place finish a year ago.
"I don't think it's sunk in yet,” UCA men's cross country coach Beau Theriot said, who was named the SLC Men's Coach of the Year. "We definitely had the plan to come in and win, we've been putting it together for quite a few years, and this was the right crew for it. But I don't think it's fully sunk in yet.
"These guys just had to run with their heart. It's super muddy out there. There were parts where guys sunk down to their knees in the mud and they just had to be super strong and faithful that they could just power through it. And, they did a hell of a job.”
Sophomore Jared Hamilton finished 11th for the Bears in 27:19.4, followed by senior Julien Jeandree in 13th (27:24.3) and Jared's twin brother junior Jaron Hamilton in 15th (27:38.8).
"I have never seen a course this muddy, this slow and this tough,” Theriot said, who ran cross country at UCA before joining the coaching staff. “And, I've seen a lot of courses. It was definitely a tough one and it was a true cross country race. It took a lot of power and strength to get through this course for everybody.
"We waited until we got down here yesterday to see the course preview before we put anything together. And, meeting with the guys, we decided not to pack run, just to run our own individual races and try to find the best line through the mud that we could. And hopefully toward the end of the race, we would find each other, and that's what they did. That was our strategy, just each individual have the best race they possibly could.”
UCA senior Brock Collins finished 26th overall (28:01.5), while freshman Hunter Henderson (38th) and Thomas Cain (60th) rounded out UCA's squad.
"Markus is a fifth-year senior, he's been a great leader on the team,” Theriot said. "He came out and showed it today, grinding through that finish. And Alex Hanson is a sophomore for cross country, an 800-meter record holder for us. Not a traditional cross country guy but he put everything out on the line today for the team.
"And you've got Julien Jeandree, another fifth-year senior who has wanted this ever since he came to Central Arkansas. Rounding out the top guys are the twins. They give me a lot of gray hairs but they showed up today. They competed well.
"Proud of all the guys. We brought two freshmen down here, Thomas (Cain) and Hunter (Henderson), and they ran exceptionally well for this type of course and the weather we had.”
For athletes who qualify, the NCAA South Central Regional will take place on Nov. 9 in College Station, Texas, hosted by Texas A&M.
The 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships will take place Nov. 17 at the Zimmer Championship Course in Madison, Wisconsin.
UCA will defend it's SLC title at home next season when it hosts the 2019 SLC Championships next October.