Cross Country Preview: Women
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Alabama State Hornets are set to try for a sixth-consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference Cross Country championship. While Coach Ritchie Beene’s unit will enter the season as the title favorite, the rest of the league looks to bring a halt to the Hornets’ recent run of prosperity.
2015 finish: Eighth at SWAC Championships
Year one under LaShaunda Jones didn’t quite yield immediate results, but the Bulldogs came into the year with a lot of youth in tow. Year two brings a season of experience and perhaps a reason for optimism in terms of the Bulldogs beginning to make its move toward the top of the hierarchy. Projected returners include Joi Ballard, Taylor Sunkett, Estelle Esperance, Andrea Chacon and Demesha Bell.
2015 finish: Won SWAC Championship
The defending champions will have to replace longtime standouts Santina Williams, Artrailia Lesane and Paige Rankine, the latter two having earned Runner of the Year in the league over the last two seasons. However, the Lady Hornets are at a point where they seem to reload rather than rebuild. Given that ALST claimed eight of the 10 all-conference slots last season – and are set to return all-league athletes Tatianna Etienne, Shakalia Williams, Brandee Ebert and Sade Lavallias – the Hornets have plenty of horses remaining, making them the title favorite in 2016.
2015 finish: Seventh at SWAC Championships
Alcorn State loses 2015 top finisher Brandi McCray, leaving Dynasty Williams as the prime candidate as the No. 1 runner for the Lady Braves this season. After taking a step back in the standings last season, Alcorn State will have several new names in the starting blocks. Williams, Kierra Gardner and Dauthline Dieujuste are the most experience members of a team that doesn’t appear to have any seniors suiting up, so the future looks promising out in Lorman, Miss.
2015 finish: 10th at SWAC Championships
Arkansas-Pine Bluff will field one of the more experienced group of runners in the SWAC, but after finishing 10th at the championships for the third-straight year, the Lady Lions will try to make a leap forward as they attempt to improve on last year’s results. Sharoya Simmons stands to be the top returning runner in Pine Bluff, with fellow senior Crystal Christopher and junior Salonica Hunter helping to lead the charge.
2015 finish: Fourth at SWAC Championships
After inching a little closer to the summit in the SWAC, the Lady Tigers look to build on last year’s progress and assert themselves as bonafide challengers to Alabama State. Sophomore Halima Chepkwony finished in the top-15 and has potential to be an all-conference runner. This is a very junior-laden team, with Yolonda-Decker Williams, Brooklynn Allison and Tichina Lewis all capable of helping Grambling move up the standings.
2015 finish: Sixth at SWAC Championships
2015 gave Jackson State cause for optimism as the Lady Tigers improved their standing in the league by three spots. After a middle-of-the-pack finish in the prior campaign, the plan is to keep moving forward. Stherline Silencieux looks like the lead athlete for the team, with Akeilia Knight and Aniecia Brewster sliding into to the spots vacated by graduated seniors D’Andrea Eashmond and A’Kendra Lewis.
Mississippi Valley State
2015 finish: Fifth at SWAC Championships
2015 saw the Devilettes welcome a new coach in Fermon Tate, Jr. who was tasked with leading an all-freshman team that entered the year without the services of its lone all-conference runner from the preceding season. Despite that, MVSU posted a fifth-place finish, with several runners – Kenya Daivs, Sierra McGinnis and Autezia Sellers – at or near the top-25 rankings in the league. With a year under their belts and more in front of them, Mississippi Valley might be the dark horse contender of the conference.
Prairie View A&M
2015 finish: Runner-up at SWAC Championships
After a second-straight runner-up finish, Prairie View returns several key athletes in its quest to reach the top of the conference. Seniors Constance Jacob (all-conference in 2015) and Ashley Santos should anchor a team with encouraging young talent, namely Aimee Hernandez and Alana Williams, both of whom would enter their sophomore seasons.
2015 finish: Third at SWAC Championships
Texas Southern picked up a back-to-back third-place finish at last season’s championships, but coach Pauline Banks is eyeing more than that for the Lady Tigers. Second-team All-SWAC runner Mariah Stewart enters her sophomore year as the top athlete on the squad, and juniors Roselore Desir and Decara Walters – both of whom were among the top 20 individual runners at the championship meet – help fill out one of the stronger contenders in the league.
2015 finish: Ninth at SWAC Championships
Southern took a step back last season, as the mostly inexperienced Jaguars went through 2015 after the expected return of 2014’s top performers didn’t come to fruition. Danae Colston, who would enter her junior year, finished just outside of the top 15 last year, and her projected return would be a big boost to what shapes up as a sophomore-laden outfit that would be highlighted by Rykeisha Bankhead and Breanca Cummings.