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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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Getting back on course

Joeseph+Benn+and+Jonathan+Chung+run+side+by+side+during+the+2021+Aggie+Invitational+cross+country+meet+on+Sept.+25%2C+2021
Photo by Robert O’Brien

Joeseph Benn and Jonathan Chung run side by side during the 2021 Aggie Invitational cross country meet on Sept. 25, 2021

The Texas A&M cross country team is gearing up for the upcoming season after a middling previous season. The Aggies had a great start to the 2021 season but were unable to close it out the way the team imagined. 

A&M assistant coach Wendel McRaven is entering his 12th season with the program and said the team’s approach for this season is to build upon the culture of doing things right. 

McRaven said last season was not the team’s best, but important lessons were learned. 

“Results at the end of the season did not match the progress that the team was making,” McRaven said. “Our approach for this upcoming season is to continue to build on progress made from the regular season and take the next steps to perform when it matters.”

2022’s competition schedule looks different for the Aggies compared to previous years. McRaven said he predicts the busy agenda will be beneficial to the team.

“Our schedule will force us to compete and challenge ourselves during the regular season. We want to expose our athletes to different competition,” McRaven said. 

For some returning athletes, the goal for the 2022 season is to perform at the highest level and aim for nationals as a team. Julia Abell is returning for her fifth year with the Aggies and has been working hard in the off season. 

Abbell said the summer has been all about “getting a great reset.” She has dedicated herself to “loving the sport, running happy, running relaxed and getting ready for the season.”

She said her and her team are ecstatic about A&M hosting the South Central Regional. During Abell’s freshman year, the South Central Regional was hosted in Aggieland. 

“We are very excited. It’s amazing that for my freshman year and now my fifth year we are hosting,” Abell said. “The approach and excitement is going to be different, we are looking forward to it and this year could be the year for us.” 

Junior Eric Casarez is preparing to run his fourth season with A&M. Casarez became ill shortly after breaking the Dale Watts Cross Country Course record to win the A&M Invitational last year. He struggled throughout the SEC meets that followed and did not perform as well as he planned. 

“It was a learning experience that made me stronger,’’ Casarez said. “I am looking forward to trying to get to the national stage especially after previous seasons being interrupted by COVID-19 and, for me, last season running really well then getting sick.” 

Casarez said this season is about building upon the culture from last season as a team.

“We didn’t finish the way we wanted to last season, so our approach is to continue to build culture as a team,” Casarez said. 

Despite these obstacles, the team still accomplished its goals last season. Sweeping the Aggie Opener, A&M claimed both women’s and men’s titles along with individual titles by Casarez and sophomore Gemma Goddard. 

Later in the season, U.S. Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association South Central All-Region honors were earned by Abell and senior Abbey Santoro. However, the Aggies took a step back during the latter part of the season, with the men placing ninth and the women placing 11th in the SEC Championships. Both men and women placed sixth at the NCAA South Central Regional to conclude the season. 

The Aggies will open the 2022 season in Oklahoma at the Cowboy Preview on Thursday, Sept. 1. The team has been training and preparing for the upcoming season and keeping team culture as the main focus.

Abbell said the summer break is still all about continuing to build confidence and getting tougher for the season.

“Summer offseason is short. We have one to two weeks off and then it’s back to building a good base of mileage, getting stronger and adding some speed elements to run well,” Abbell said. 

Runners need to prepare and “stack up to the challenge,” coach McRaven said of the summer offseason.

“As a coach, I have to be sure that our athletes continue to evolve and gain confidence,” McRaven said. “It’s important to grow individually but also as a team. Team culture is very important.”

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