The Southwestern Assemblies of God University cross country teams kicked off the 2018 campaign in Mansfield at the Orville Rogers and DBU Patriot XC Opener.
The teams were in good company with the likes of the host team, who have both men's and women ranked in the pre-season top 20 in the NCAA DII, as well as the University of Texas A&M-Kingsville whose men are coming off of the 2018 NCAA DII outdoor track national championship.
And the Lions held their own in both races with standout performances by two freshmen.
The men were led by freshman Zackery Hammond, who led the entire field for the first three miles before succumbing to Dallas Baptist's big three. Hammond finished the 8,000m race in 4th place with the time of 25:56.1. It was the highest placement at the DBU meet in program history for the men's side, but his time also set a new program record.
Coach Jason Covarrubias said he was "extremely impressed" by the grit displayed by Hammond.
"He went out very hard which put him in a 'lame duck predicament' to three of the country's best runners, but when they caught up to him, he did not back down," Covarrubias added.
The men finished as the meet's runner-up for the second year in a row. The Lions top-five all crossed in the top-30, as well.
Hammond had help from SAGU's own big three — Adrian Cedillo (27:04), Cody Walker (27:14), and Robert Herrera (27:53), who finished 10th, 13th and 20th, respectively.
Freshman Jose Alvarez rounded out the SAGU top-five with his 29th place finish.
"These men work hard every day," Covarrubias said. "Today they held their own against a pretty stout field and attacked the 8k with confidence. This meet was a huge confidence booster for our men as they beat the qualifying standard for the NCCAA National Championship by over 10 minutes."
For the SAGU women, the freshman class has already begun to revitalize the program, as the Lady Lions were led by three of those freshmen.
The first Lady Lion to cross the line was Alexandria Castillo, who finished the women's 5k just outside of the top 20 (21st) with the time of 21:15.4. She was followed by Ayala Pope and Alyssa Moore who crossed at 33rd and 37th, respectively, with times of 22:37.7 and 23:01.0.
Destiny Barclift (soph) and two-sport athlete Alyssa Holder (freshman) finished with times of 23:18.2 and 24:41.2 to round out the team’s top-five.
"This is the fastest group of ladies that we have ever had at one time in our program," Covarrubias said. "They work as a team daily and today it showed. Unfortunately, they did not hit their goal to qualify for the NCCAA national meet but they are close. It won't be long."
Both teams travel to Joplin, MO on Saturday, Sept. 15th for the Missouri Southern State University Stampede.