Oct 27, 2012 11:04 PM by UL Sports Information
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - A trio of freshmen posting times in the Top 20 was the highlight for the Ragin' Cajuns men's and women's cross country program here Saturday morning in the 2012 Sun Belt Championships held at Kereiakes Park under cold conditions.
On the men's side Matt Rice (Baton Rouge, La./Runnels HS) posted a 12th place finish with an 8K timing of 25:56.9. Rice was a mere five seconds from landing a Top 10 mark in his SBC debut. The effort landed him third team All-Sun Belt honors.
Joining Rice in the men's Top 20 was fellow freshman Cole Stafford (Baton Rouge, La./Catholic-BR) whose time of 26:03.7 placed him 19th out of the 90 competitors. Stafford was only five seconds shy of collecting third team All-Sun Belt accolades.
The third Cajuns freshman in the Top 20 was Anna Katherine Devitt who led the women's team for the fifth time in as many outings this season. Devitt posted a season-best 5K clocking of 18:53.6 that landed her in 18th place. Devitt was one of only 20 competitors (83 total) on the women's side to finish under 20 minutes.
Rice and Stafford's performances paced the Cajuns men to an sixth place finish in the team standings with 145 points. Coach Lon Badeaux's troops were a mere three points from a Top 5 showing and only six points behind fourth-place finisher South Alabama (139 points).
The Cajuns women wound up 11th out of the 12 squads competing with 244 points, but weren't far removed from eighth place (FIU - 228 points).
The men's placement marked the highest for the Ragin' Cajuns since claiming the conference championship in 2004 and was a vast improvement from a ninth place finish (230 points) a year ago.
"I thought the men competed very well today," Badeaux recalled. "It wasn't perfect which is why we finished six points from fourth place. Overall I was pleased with the strides this young team made this year and was proud of their competitiveness with the top teams in the conference.
"I was exceptionally proud of two freshmen - Matt Rice and Cole Stafford - placing in the Top 20 and with Matt being named all-conference," Badeaux added. "That shows the type of talent they have."
For the third straight meet, either Rice or Stafford finished as UL's top performer which bodes well for the program's future.
Both Rice and Stafford easily bested their season-best times in the 8K.
Rice shattered his best, improving nearly two minutes ahead of his only other 8K time of 27:06.2 at the Ragin' Cajuns Invitational on Sept. 14. Stafford traversed the 8K course in a pace that was 50 seconds faster than the Ragin' Cajuns Invitational 8K (26:53.0).
Zach France, racing for the final time in the Sun Belt Championships, placed 34th with a time of 26:46.6. He was joined by Scott Brewster (26:50.7 - 35th) and Lafayette native Trey Bonin (27:28.3 - 46th) as Cajuns finishing in the Top 50.
The UL men saw five runners place Top 50 - one of only five schools in the meet to have all point scorers in that range.
Devitt surpassed her previous 5K best of 19:18.9 set at the Ragin' Cajuns Invitational on Sept. 14. She ended her rookie campaign at the collegiate level with two 5K times under 20 minutes.
Devitt wasn't far off a Top 10 pace, finishing only 26 seconds behind Arkansas State's Abby Dixon who landed 10th place with a time of 18:27.5. She was four seconds behind UALR's Marissa DeLaPaz's time of 18:49.0 which was the 15th-best clocking and the final all-conference designation.
"Anna ran a great race once again for our women's team," Badeaux commented. "We knew it would be tough for this young group of girls, but their performances were well ahead of last year's women's squad and I really believe there are great years that lie ahead for these ladies."
Competing with a squad consisting all of underclassmen, the next two finishers for the women were also freshmen in Danielle Castaldi (20:01.7 - 49th) and Ashley Irwin (20:10.3 - 53rd).
It was a season-best time for Castaldi in the 5K (previous best time was 20:50.0 at McNeese on Sept. 29) while Irwin fell just shy of her 5K top mark of 20:07.3 in the Ragin' Cajuns Invitational.
Saturday's race marked the final team competition of the 2012 season for Louisiana. Should the Cajuns send individual runners, the 2012 NCAA Division I South Central Regional Championships is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 9 at Agri Park in Fayetteville, Ark.
UALR and Georgia State captured the 2012 men's and women's Sun Belt Conference Cross Country titles, respectively.
UALR had all five of their runners finish in the Top 20 and four of the five finished with second or third team All-Conference honors. The Trojans finished with a team score of 58 points.
This was Georgia State's first ever Sun Belt Conference Cross Country Championship in their first meet in the league. The Panthers were led by All-Conference first team and most outstanding performer Katharine Showalter with a time of 17:41.1 over the five kilometer course. Under cold conditions GSU racked up 52 points to just beat out runner up Arkansas State at 58 points.