Oklahoma Christian cross country coach Wade Miller expressed quiet optimism in his men's team during the preseason and the Eagles gave a strong indication as to why on Saturday morning in their first meet of the 2019 campaign.
With both freshmen and veterans providing key contributions, the Eagles flirted with what would have been their first team win since 2015 before finishing as the team runner-up in the annual Central Oklahoma Land Run at Edmond Santa Fe High School.
OC posted a team score of 64 and trailed only Pittsburg State (Kan.), which had a score of 36, in the 11-team field. Early in the race, it looked as if the Eagles might earn their first team win since the Heartland Conference Championship race in 2015 in Laredo, Texas, but the Gorillas rallied over the final two miles of the four-mile race to ease ahead of OC.
OC did hold off Central Region power East Central (83) and downed former Heartland rival Rogers State (113) for the first time since the 2016 Heartland meet.
"Everybody that understands the sports knows that these races don't mean a whole lot, other than getting a gauge on your fitness and learning some of the strengths and weaknesses that we can work on going from here until late October or early November," Miller said. "There's a lot of ground to cover in a lot of different areas. We've still got a lot of work to do."
A pair of freshmen led the way for the Eagles. Ethan Anthony of Mornington, Australia, led the race in the early stages and held on for a strong sixth-place finish in the 111-man field with a time of 20:46.29. In 11th place was Owen Pearce of Kingman, Kan., in 20:52.20. He was one spot ahead of junior Caleb Bozarth of Bakersfield, Calif., who posted a time of 20:58.10.
The Eagles' next three finishers also were bunched together – senior Kelton Reynolds of Abilene, Texas (17th in 21:07.95), junior Colton Meyers of Allen, Texas (22nd in 21:29.12) and sophomore Jelte van Atten of Leiden, Netherlands (23rd in 21:32.37).
"That group has been close to each other early on in the season, working out," Miller said. "It's always a good thing to have such a strong pack. I'm looking forward to that transitioning to longer races. We've still got a lot of work to do, but there's a lot of room to grow as well, so that's also a good feeling."
OC's other four runners were freshman Austin McNair of Denton, Texas (50th in 22:35.75), junior Brady Aderholt of Vernon, Texas (52nd in 22:43.25), sophomore Nick Parizek of Oklahoma City (53rd in 22:44.45) and freshman Dylan Burrows of Melbourne, Australia (57th in 22:57.92).
"It's going to be important for those upperclassmen to help the freshmen develop as the season go along and understand the length and the importance of racing well later in the season," Miller said. "I think there's a good mixture of what we're going to need to be successful. I'm excited to see what that looks like."
Pittsburg State's Bryce Grahn won the individual race with a time of 20:28.50.
OC's next meet will be the Missouri Southern Stampede in Joplin, Mo., on Sept. 21.