Four current members and two distinguished alumni of the Oklahoma State men's and women's cross country teams will travel to St. Louis, Mo., Saturday to compete in the United States Cross Country Championships at Forest Park.
This year, the top-six finishers from the men's and women's junior divisions will qualify to represent Team USA at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Three current members of the men's team will be in action, with Korey Krotzer and Craig Nowak competing in the junior division and Joseph Manilafasha running in the senior division. Krotzer did not suit up for the Cowboys during the 2012 cross country season. Nowak, a true freshman, ran in three races for OSU. At the Big 12 Championships, he posted a time of 24:43.2 and finished 26th, and at the Midwest Regional, he finished 28th with a time of 31:06.22.
Manilafasha, a cross country All-American, ran a time of 28:48.8 and finished 24th at the NCAA Championships. Both his time and finish were career bests for the championships.
Natalie Baker, a freshman from Plano, Texas, will represent the current Cowgirls in the junior division.
Coach Dave Smith said though Saturday's championships are a far cry from NCAA meets, the chance to represent one's country is a driving force to compete.
"We don't focus on a team score as much, because we won't run a full team," Smith said. "It's more about the individual, and it's about making the U.S. team and going to the world championships. We've had guys competing at the world championships almost every year. For the junior guys like Craig Nowak and Korey Krotzer, if they can go to the world championships and get a look at the rest of the world, how they compete and what they're up against in the future, and also get to travel with some of the best distance runners in the United States, and be around them, it changes who they are.
"It changes the way they look at themselves and the way they approach their training and outlook. It raises the bar for them and their expectations change. It's been really beneficial for all our runners who have made the team in the past."
Also racing in the senior division are decorated Cowboy alums Ryan Vail and David Jankowski, who are part of an impressive streak for OSU Cross Country: each of the last eight years, OSU has been represented on a national cross country squad.
Vail, a five-time All-American and three-time Big 12 Champion during his time with the Cowboys, will try for his fourth appearance on an IAAF squad. He made the junior team in 2005 and the senior squad in both 2009 and 2010.
Jankowski, who logged four top-10 finishes at the Big 12 Championships and was a part of back-to-back top-10 team finishes at the NCAA Championships in 2005 and 2006, is vying for his second appearance on a national team. In 2006, he finished fourth in the Under-23 North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) 10K series.
"It shows we have some of the best runners in the United States here at Oklahoma State," Smith said. "It increases our visibility. We're getting this reputation of having the best young guys in the nation. With our older guys and alumni making senior teams, it's a sign of where our program is, but it's also a great advertisement for us. Come to Oklahoma State, and these are the kind of athletes you train with and the kind of athletes you become."
The senior division 8K will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by the women's junior 6K at 11:30 a.m. and the men's junior 8K at 12:15 p.m.
United States Cross Country Championships
Feb. 2, 2013/ ForestPark/St. Louis, Mo.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Men's Senior Division 8K – 10:00 a.m.Joseph ManilafashaRyan VailDavid Jankowski
Women's Junior Division 6K – 11:30 a.m.Natalie Baker
Men's Junior Division 8K – 12:15 p.m.Korey KrotzerCraig Nowak