By Dave Wagner
Joel McMullen thought his first Eastern New Mexico University men’s cross country team would be respectable. If everything falls into place, the Greyhounds could be more than that.
Kenyans Kennedy Baiywo (pronounced “bi-E-woe”) and Felix Boyt, nephews of former ENMU cross country and track standout Mike Boyt, arrived on campus Friday and are expected to give the Hounds a big lift.
“If they live up to their billing, they will be very competitive runners,” McMullen said.
Both ENMU squads were fifth in the Lone Star Conference meet last fall, which they hosted at Portales Country Club. They open the season on Friday at West Texas A&M’s Buffalo Stampede in Canyon.
The men’s top returnee is redshirt sophomore Ricardo Hernandez of Carlsbad, 11th in last year’s league meet. He’s being pushed by junior Orlando Sanchez, freshman Jason Garcia and junior Patrick McGuire, a transfer from Washington State.
“Ricardo’s just a solid runner,” McMullen said. “I’ve been around him long enough to know he’s a team leader.
“And Orlando looks strong. We’ve got a group of four guys that are running within 20 or 30 seconds of each other.”
And the competition in practice just got stiffer with the arrival of the Kenyans, although McMullen said there is a question about whether Boyt will be certified to compete this year.
Hernandez said the tougher workouts will make the Hounds a better team.
“We’re going to be a much closer (running) pack,” he said. “Hopefully, ours will be in the front of the pack.
“Team-wise, we’d like to move up (in the LSC). A lot of the teams we won’t see until conference, though, and you never know what they’ll have.”
The women return four runners from last year, although senior Jana Villegas has been having problems with allergies in preseason and her status is uncertain.
Senior Karissa Huskey finished fifth individually in the LSC meet last year to earn all-conference recognition. Others back for the Zias are junior Lynnae Chavez and senior Leora Shorty.
With Villegas, the Zias should have nine runners.
“I think this is the largest girls team that Eastern has ever had,” said Chavez, whose father LeRoy ran on ENMU’s national champion NAIA track squad in the 1970s. “I think as a team we could really do well.”
Hernandez and Chavez said McMullen’s expertise in the sport has been a plus.
“Coach McMullen has a lot of energy toward the sport,” Hernandez said. “He was actually a runner, and has an idea of what we’re going through. Overall, that makes us more confident.”
Chavez, from Cimarron, said the workouts laid out by McMullen and assistant coach Matt Gordillo have been beneficial.
“He’s awesome,” she said of McMullen. “He roots us on a lot. I want this team to become very close and run for each other, instead of as individuals.”
McMullen said the Hounds and Zias are steadily improving.
“I’ve been very happy with the kids’ rapport this year, and I think they’ll do fine,” he said. “I think we have a pretty solid team from top to bottom, and I know we’ll get better as the year goes on.”