Team takes a back seat

After disappointment at the Conference USA championships, the USF men and women’s cross country teams will focus on new goals at the NCAA South Regional championships Saturday in Auburn, Ala.

Coaches stressed all year the importance of gaining experience so the team could offer a strong performance at the conference meet on Nov. 1. The practice did not pay off, however, when the women’s team finished third and the men’s team managed sixth.

The top two teams will advance, while the top four individuals not on those two teams will move on to the NCAA championships. USF assistant coach Rita Arndt who conceded a team berth in the nationals is probably out of reach, but USF has several runners who can compete for an individual spot.

“It certainly changes the focus a little going into the meet,” Arndt said. “We have spent the entire season before conference learning to run as a team, but now, realistically, we have four or five runners with a chance to go on to the national meet.

“Christa Benton is a returning All-American, so absolutely I expect her to qualify. Bente General has been outstanding all season, and if she stays at the level she has been at this season then she should qualify too. Even Jessica Hellender can put together another strong outing and surprise a lot of people.

“Tennessee and (Florida State) will probably take the top two spots (on the women’s side), but you take their runners out of the picture and we have three girls who should do really well.”

Arndt holds similar expectations for the men’s team. The team has two freshmen and two sophomores, and Arndt said the team has a promising future. But the meet could be the end of the career of Adam Chumbley, the team’s lone senior.

“Adam is running probably the last race of his collegiate career, so I hope he can go out there and have some fun,” Arndt said. “He has finally found some consistency this year. Throughout his career, he has been a very up-and-down runner, but he and Sean (Burris) both maintained a high level this season.

“Sean has been competitive all season, and he is obviously a leader on the team. He is just a sophomore, so he still has two years ahead of him, but already he has the ability to do great things. I think he has a great chance to move on (to nationals). But both he and Adam have benefited from the emphasis on the entire team this year, so we can’t get to far away from that and concentrate just on them.”