By Dave Wagner
Joel McMullen knows his Eastern New Mexico University men’s cross country team has its work cut out in Saturday’s NCAA Division II South Central Region Championships at Joplin, Mo., hosted by Missouri Southern.
The Greyhounds, fifth in the Lone Star Conference meet Oct. 25 at Commerce, Texas, would need to place third out of 18 teams to qualify for national competition Nov. 20 at Evansville, Ind. In addition, the top two runners not on an advancing team also qualify.
“It’ll be pretty tough to get in,” McMullen acknowledged. “We’re not so much focused on whether we get to nationals. Our goal is to get into the top 10 (teams).”
ENMU is taking five runners to the regional, set for 8:30 a.m. (MST) — sophomore Patrick McGuire, freshman Jason Garcia, sophomore Ricardo Hernandez, junior Orlando Sanchez and freshman Kennedy Baiywo. Teams in the field represent the LSC, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and the Heartland Conference.
ENMU isn’t taken anyone from its women’s squad to Joplin. In the LSC meet, the Zias were ninth out of 11 teams.
McMullen said he’s confident the Hounds can reach their team goal this weekend.
“If (Texas A&M-)Kingsville is 10th in the (regional) rankings and Angelo (State) is eighth, and we were only eight points behind Kingsville (in the league meet), I think we should be fine,” he said.
Women’s basketball — ENMU kicks off its season with a 2 p.m. exhibition game on Sunday at Texas-El Paso.
Assistant coach Dustin Klafka is serving as acting head coach with coach Dan Buzard recovering from a cancerous brain tumor suffered during the summer. Buzard, who has recently returned to Portales, has been having problems with his eyesight since undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
ENMU and UTEP played a preseason exhibition last year, and the Zias competed well in a 70-55 loss. They went on to a 16-12 season, including 10-4 in the Lone Star Conference South Division.
This year’s squad is a mix of veterans and newcomers.
“We’ve got to figure out where we’re at right now with so many new people,” Klafka said. “It’s going to be a learning process.
“UTEP will be a good challenge for us, and will expose some of our weaknesses.”
The Zias’ recruiting class includes 6-foot junior post Riikka Lehtonen of Finland, a transfer from Kilgore (Texas) College. Among the returnees is 5-11 fourth-year junior post Tia Doss, who has missed virtually two full seasons with knee injuries.
“Riikka’s doing real well,” Klafka said. “She’s given us some depth in the post.
“Her and Tia are playing real well. Tia has worked really hard over the summer to come back.”