With no conference to call home yet as a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), Dalton State College’s men’s and women’s cross country squads can’t compete for postseason honors this year in their inaugural seasons.
That doesn’t mean the Roadrunners teams might not be good enough to do so given the chance.
Cross country will be the second sport — women’s volleyball started two weeks ago — to begin competition in the school’s new era of athletics. The men’s and women’s cross country teams begin their seasons today at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Powerade Invita-tional at the Moccasin Bend Race Course.
The women’s 2-mile race begins at 5:45 p.m., and the men’s 5K (3.1-mile) run starts at 6:15.
That will begin a six-meet schedule for both teams, according to the Dalton State athletics website, dsroadrunners.com.
In the first season of varsity intercollegiate athletics at the school in some three decades, Dalton State is ineligible for postseason championships because of its lack of a conference home. That may change for next school year, though, and the Roadrunners’ cross country co-coaches, Andy Meyer and Margie Bruner, want conference titles and national competitiveness to become an annual occurrence.
“We’re here to build a power,” Meyer said. “We want to be an NAIA power. We don’t want to be a club team. ... I want us to be a conference champion every year and to be at nationals every year.”
Teams can qualify for the national meet — an 8K race for the men and 5K race for the women — based on their conference finish. Individuals also can qualify if the team doesn’t, but once again the Roadrunners won’t be eligible.
Meyer said the other five meets Dalton State scheduled for this season will be the same distances as the national meet. Up to seven runners may represent a team in a meet, with the first five finishers for each counting toward their team’s score. Dalton State’s inaugural teams are made up of mostly freshmen and juniors, and there aren’t any seniors.
“I see most of the kids, if not all of them, being here a year or two years down the road,” Bruner said.
Leading the men’s side will be freshman Isaac Pacheco, of North Murray High School, who was The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year both his junior and senior seasons. Also expected to contribute are twins Brody and Parker Cook (freshmen, Northwest Whitfield); Chris Pineda (junior, Dalton); Josue Lima (junior, Southeast Whitfield); Paul Patterson (freshman, Tennessee’s Bradley Central); and Isaac Pacheco’s brother, Rafael (junior, Murray County).
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Meyer said. “We have a great bunch of guys that run really well. We’re going into this first meet about 80 percent of where we need to be. Like I said, I think we’re going to surprise some people by the end of the season.”
Meyer and Bruner labeled Pineda the “experienced leader” for the team. Pineda spent the last two years running for Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn.
“We have a lot of talent and some potential,” Pineda said. “Some talent will come out this year and some next year. We just have to develop it.”
Julie Parham, a junior and another Dalton High School graduate, will lead the women’s team. Also expected to contribute are Amairany Vidana (junior, Dalton); Jazmin Sanchez (freshman, Heritage-Catoosa); Karla Gomez (junior, Dalton); Maggie Kalafut (freshman, Northwest); Natalie Hensley (freshman, Heritage); and Nayeli Jacobo (freshman, Murray County).
“For the girls, this will be a learning experience,” Bruner said. “They need to step up their runs, hurt a little bit more and learn how to not be the best runner on the team.”
Parham said the first season is about “making a name” for the program.
“We want to show people that even though we are small, we are here to do well,” she said. “And I think we will do really well.”