The Saints cross-country teams will start their 14th season and Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) title defense on Sept. 2 at the UIW Twilight. The women are scheduled to run the 4k at 8:45 p.m., and the men will follow in the 6k at 9:10 p.m.
The men’s team, which has won seven conference championships in a row, has been selected to finish first in the conference preseason poll, followed by new conference opponent Texas A&M University – Texarkana, the University of the Southwest, Xavier University of Louisiana, Huston-Tillotson University and Jarvis Christian University (former Jarvis Christian College).
The women, who have won seven of the last nine conference championships, are picked second in the preseason poll. Newcomer Texarkana is selected first, and following the Saints are Xavier, Jarvis, Southwest and Huston-Tillotson.
Head Coach Patrick Torres begins his third season with OLLU. The men’s and women’s programs have thrived under Torres’ leadership, boasting the RRAC trophy and qualifying for the NAIA National Championships in his first two years. He earned coach of the year honors for both teams in 2020 and 2021.
Assistant Coach Brett Charlton also enters his third season. Charlton competed as a track and field athlete at Illinois State University and graduated from Eureka College in Eureka, Ill., before joining the Saints staff.
Torres and Charlton recruited 11 incoming freshmen for the 2022 campaign. Additions to the women’s team include Mia Curiel, Khristian Harden, Liliana Hernandez, Karla Herrera, Deandra Ibarra, Leilani Leza and Kennedy Vallalpando. The men’s program welcomes Jesse Morales, Sebastian Moreno, Jose Saucedo, Matthew Trevino and Jayden Turrubiates.
Men’s team returners
Returning is senior Nathaniel Rodriguez, while Jose Zarate returns for his fifth season after being granted another year of eligibility due to COVID. Transfer athlete Kruz Malesich is the lone junior, while JoseCarlos Hernandez, Diego Moran, Hendrick Ramirez and Robert Rios are back as sophomores. Also returning is Hector Puente. “We are bringing back a great returning group,” Torres commented.
Women’s team returners
The Saints welcome back solid performing seniors, including Lindsey Broussard, Robbie Sue Espericueta and Nadia Sifuentes. Senior Brianna Pantoja and junior Virdiana Zuniga ran track over the last few years and joined the cross-country team this season. Jasmine Hernandez and Sierra Ramirez round out the sophomore class.
The teams open the season at the UIW Twilight on Sept. 2 at the University of the Incarnate Word. They will head to Pflugerville, Texas, on Sept. 23 to compete in the Concordia Classic at Concordia University Texas and back to UIW on Oct. 1 for the UIW Invitational.
The programs will host the Saints Invitational on Oct. 8. The highlight of the regular season will be at the Arturo Barrios Invitational at Texas A&M University in College Station on Oct. 15. The Saints will have a chance to compete among various NCAA D1 schools.
OLLU will close the season by hosting the RRAC Championships on Nov. 5.
Both programs finished first in the RRAC Championships last season. Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA) finished second on the women’s side, followed by the University of the Southwest (USW) in third and Huston-Tillotson University (HTU) in fourth. Sifuentes and Hernandez took first and second place in the 5k. Four other Saints finished in the top 10.
The men’s team was followed by USW in second place, XULA in third, Wiley College in fourth, HTU in fifth and Jarvis Christian College (JCC) in sixth. The Saints swept the top 10 spots in the 5k, with Zarate taking first and Rodriguez, Ramirez and Moran, Hernandez finishing in the top 10.
This season’s conference competitors will be USW, Jarvis Christian University, XULA and newcomer Texas A&M University-Texarkana (TAMUT).
The women’s cross-country team earned NAIA Scholar Team honors in 2021-2022 with an overall 3.30 GPA.
The Saints aim to provide a top-tier fan experience at all events. Torres commented, “Our program is building on past performance. Cross-country is an exciting sport, and we love hearing the crowd noise and fans cheering on our athletes.”