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Of Goals And Aspirations

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As an added bonus for being the lone member of the All-Conference USA First Team not representing Tulsa or UTEP two weekends ago at the C-USA Cross Country Championship in The Woodlands, Owls senior Simon Bucknell will run with the expectation of contending for a spot at nationals when the Owls participate in the NCAA South Central Regional at Cottonwood Creek Golf Course in Waco on Saturday. And men's track coach Jon Warren has no problem expressing that expectation to Bucknell, who placed seventh at the C-USA meet.

"There are a lot of people in the conversation (to qualify individually for the NCAA Championships), but he's definitely in the conversation for being able to go after one of those spots," Warren said of Bucknell, who finished 34th at regionals last year. "Because he can."

The top four individuals not attached to qualifying teams will advance to the NCAA Championships, and Warren harbors no realistic expectations of the youthful Owls finishing among the top two regional teams or becoming one of 13 at-large teams nationally. However, Bucknell has run consistently strong this season, and should he run the race he is capable of executing, the potential exists for him to make the trip to Terre Haute, Ind., for nationals.

According to Warren, a top-10 finish at the 10K event will require a race run in 31 minutes, and Bucknell is prepared to accomplish that feat. Owls sophomore Michael Trejo might be just outside that bubble of contention, but that doesn't mean that Warren is convinced Trejo isn't poised for an extraordinary performance. The key for Trejo is disregarding his 17th-place finish at the C-USA meet, an effort impacted by the muddy track and his cranky Achilles. Warren has stressed to Trejo that poor conditions played a critical role in the undesirable result, and that the ideal surface in Waco should significantly bolster his pre-race confidence. 

"We've discussed it. I hope he realizes it," Warren said. "We had a couple of runners, and Simon may be included in this, that really benefited from the mud. They really enjoyed it and responded well, and that helped their overall places - Scott Zivick is probably another one that really was helped from that. We had two runners - Michael, especially, and Matt Carey - who really suffered in there. They put out a lot of extra effort with no response in the muddy fields we ran on."

The Owls' collection of freshmen? Oh they're on alert, too, even with facing more modest expectations. The competition will be fierce, and Warren makes no qualms about that. But if the Owls are to continue their steady development as a national program, breakthroughs on the regional level are paramount. The definition of a breakthrough is relative, but Warren has established that baseline for the Owls who will run with Bucknell, Trejo and Zivick, a senior.

"Some of the guys on the team, we're going with the idea of simply being in the top 50," Warren said. "How far below 50 can you get if you can get under there? Can you get in the 40s? Can you get in the 30s? We try to set a goal that doesn't overwhelm them.

"If they can get top 50 as freshmen, then we can keep slowly building up. We'd like to think, and it may be dreaming, that in two years if we can go to this meet and average under 31:30, that means you're looking at averaging in the top 25 to 35. We're in the hunt to go to nationals at that point. That's five pretty solid runners."

Never one to shy away from setting lofty goals, women's track coach Jim Bevan has devised a strategy to elevate his Owls beyond their seeding at regionals - fifth - to a top-2 finish in Waco. Has he expressed his brazen belief of orchestrating a minor upset to a team littered with freshmen and sophomores who have, for the most part, already exceeded expectations?

"Absolutely," Bevan said. "We're going up there to run our best race, but we're also going up there to run thinking we have a chance to qualify for nationals."

After rolling the dice and redshirting three veteran runners for the sake of fielding a powerhouse in 2010, Bevan skillfully coached six freshmen and sophomores (along with respected senior Claire Shorall) to a third-place finish at the C-USA meet. Freshman Heather Olson and sophomore Halsey Fowler earned second-team honors with their eighth and 12th place finishes, respectively, but in truth the Owls have been a balanced outfit this season with sophomore Marie Thompson and freshmen Joanna Ohm also delivering outstanding efforts.

Bevan expects the same of sophomore Michaela Reynolds this weekend, and with a little of his typically timely tweaking, he is convinced that a break or two might yield the desired result. Lowering the bar runs contrary to striving for greatness, and the Owls aim to do the latter.

"This fall has been a success from a standpoint of the way the girls have developed, the way the girls have performed, the experience they've received in very, very intense national-level meets (and) at the conference meet," Bevan said. "I look toward to the regional meet, and we have a chance to get to nationals. I really believe we'll have the best race of the year."

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Random again, but I was just looking up a player on the football roster and noticed Joe Leary is still on it. Any idea as to whether he will attempt a comeback next season?

Talon: Funny you ask, because on the bus ride to Dallas I was thinking about the same thing. I recall speaking with Bailiff on Leary earlier this season and there was some talk that he would give it one last try, but I haven't revisited that topic in a while. I'll be sure to ask Leary the next time I see him on his status for next season. - MK

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