Two University of Central Arkansas athletes, hailing from continents apart, have found common ground in cross country.
Freshman Brooke Cassar of Australia and senior Erika Setzler of Conway will lead the UCA cross country team in the NCAA South Central Regional on Friday in Waco, Texas. Cassar, the Southland Conference women’s champion, is the conference’s female Runner of the Year. Setzler, a steady performer for four seasons, was third in the conference meet in helping the Bears to a second-place finish. UCA is ranked eighth in the region.
"They play off each other really well," said John Jones, the Bears’ assistant cross country coach who handles the women’s team. They are always enjoying themselves and motivating each other."
"She’s been my rabbit," said Setzler. "I’ve been chasing her every practice. She has been pushing me all year. We usually run together the first part of the race. And when she goes across the finish line, she knows I’m usually right behind her.
"I knew she was a great runner coming in, but she has exceeded expectations. We’ve helped each other."
Cassar has been one of the top runners in the region since she arrived on campus from Down Under. Jones noticed her from video and recruiting services.
"Her times were not that fast, but I noticed she was beating some very good girls of national caliber," Jones said. "The big thing about her is her willingness to listen. You give suggestions, she will take them. And she listens to her body. She knows when to push herself and when to back away a bit. Her times have just gotten better and she’s beaten some outstanding runners this season."
She was attracted UCA from the relationship she built during recruiting with Jones and the university’s physical therapy curriculum.
Her home in Australia is about 45 minutes from Sydney.
"We live about 150 feet from the ocean, so I’ve always enjoyed running along the ocean and going along the hiking trails," she said. "Cross country is mainly a club sport in Australia. I love the team atmosphere and traveling with team."
She lived three years in Terre Haute, Ind., before her family moved to Australia. The NCAA championships are at the University of Indiana.
"If I can finish high in the regionals and qualify for nationals, it will be like coming home," she said. "I’m excited about that."
Has there been any language barrier concerning Cassar’s distinct Australia accent?
"At first, when she talked, I would keep asking, ‘what did you say?’ Setzler said with a laugh. "Now, I understand her pretty easily. We communicate well."