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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M cross country outruns competition

Photo by Courtesy of Aiden Shertzer/Texas A&M Athletics

The Texas A&M cross country team held their first meet of the season on Wednesday, Sept. 1. Both the men’s and women’s teams swept the team and individual titles. 

Texas A&M opened the 2021 cross country season in dominant fashion, sweeping its first meet on Wednesday, Sept. 1.

For the first time in three years, A&M hosted the Aggie Opener through its completion, after a weather emergency cut the race short in 2019 and COVID-19 caused its cancellation outright in 2020. Both the men’s and women’s teams easily ousted the competition this year, taking first place and outscoring the runner-ups by a combined total of 79 points.

Before the races could even begin, however, lightning threatened to cancel the competition once again. Distance coach Wendel McRaven said the subsequent hour-long wait threatened both his teams’ success and his ability to give direction to the athletes.

“[The delay] just created extra anxiety,” McRaven said. “It forced us to start the races so close together — it makes it harder to coach and to take in what exactly happened.”

In the end, the Aggies persevered in true A&M fashion, weathering the storm and immediately bouncing back to win the opener on all fronts.

The night’s greatest standout came in the form of one of the youngest runners on the team. Freshman Gemma Goddard started slow, crossing the race’s midpoint in ninth place, but quickened her pace in the second half. In the final straightaway of the race, Goddard edged out Southern Methodist’s Steffi Jones by .2 seconds, claiming first place in the women’s race with a time of 14:26.8 on the 4.1k course.

Goddard was closely supported by other members of the maroon and white squad, with the Aggies claiming the 1-3-5-6-9 positions. Senior Abbey Santoro finished second for the Aggies and third overall with a time of 14:27.8. Freshman Maddie Livingston claimed fifth at 14:31.8, senior Julia Black took sixth with 14:33.1 and senior Grace Plain crossed the checkered line ninth at 14:48.0.

After making a grand impression in her collegiate debut, Goddard said she had to overcome nerves but ultimately feels happy with the trajectory she is on.

“I was definitely nervous coming into the race. But in all honesty, it worked out in the end,” Goddard said. “The team was feeling really strong. I’m excited to run with an amazing group of girls.”

In the end, the Aggies finished with 24 points. The race’s runner up, SMU, was 25 points behind.

The men’s team experienced similar success, with A&M’s top five all finishing within the meet’s top 10. Junior Eric Casarez immediately took the lead and never looked back, finishing the race without any competitors in sight; his 5k time clocked in at 15:14.5, 24 seconds ahead of second place. Freshman Joseph Benn, sophomore Victor Zuniga, senior Gavin Hoffpauir and sophomore Jonathan Chung closed out the maroon and white’s highest scorers, with times of 15:44.2, 15:54.1, 15:56.7 and 16:01.9, respectively.

The second place men’s squad ended 54 points behind.

Though his superiority on the course was unmatched, Casarez said he wasn’t performing to the best of his abilities. Instead, he was using the race as an opportunity to ease back into competing after a difficult 2020 season, he said.

“It’s only the season opener, so I didn’t want to strain my body too much,” Casarez said. “I just wanted to get the feet moving and get back on the home course — I wanted to let everyone know that last season was not me. It was an up and down season; I had COVID[-19] and battled through injuries … I’m coming [into] this season with a chip on my shoulder.”

Head coach Pat Henry, fresh off a successful season with the A&M track and field team and entering his 37th year coaching at the collegiate level, said his teams started the season exactly how he had hoped. He said he is also confident both the men and women will use Wednesday’s success to build up toward more success throughout the remaining campaign.

“You could see a group out there that was trying to run as a team and trying to get some things done together,” Henry said. “It’s good to get out there early and see some things about yourself as a team — that’s what this was about today.”

The Aggies next return to action on Saturday, Sept. 25 when the team hosts the Texas A&M Invitational at 8 a.m. on the Watts Cross Country Course.

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