Chile Pepper Festival next challenge for OCXC teams

Brayden Barrientez and his OC cross country teammates will run Saturday in the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark.
Brayden Barrientez and his OC cross country teammates will run Saturday in the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Oct. 12, 2012) – It’s been quite a season already for Oklahoma Christian’s cross country teams, with a combined six Heartland Conference runner of the week awards in eight opportunities.

As the Eagles and Lady Eagles gear up for the NCCAA national meet next month in Ohio, they will run Saturday in one of the nation’s biggest regular-season events, the 24th annual Chile Pepper Festival hosted by the University of Arkansas.

OC coach Wade Miller considers the Chile Pepper one of the two biggest events on the OCXC schedule, along with the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater. He’s hoping a strong outing Saturday morning will serve to sharpen up his squads, as they will have just one more race before the Nov. 10 national meet.

A big difference between the Chile Pepper and most collegiate cross country meet is the race length. Instead of the standard five-kilometer race for women and eight-kilometer race for men, the races will be six kilometers and 10 kilometers, respectively.

OC’s men’s team figures to be at full strength for the first time this season, with two of the Eagles’ top runners, Brayden Barrientez and Roberto Diaz, back from nagging injuries that limited some of their early season races.

Even without being at 100 percent, the Eagles have proven themselves as a top-20-caliber team at the NCAA Division II level. The U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association has declined to rank OC, which is in the first year of the Division II membership process, even though the Eagles have beaten No. 23 Eastern New Mexico (twice) and No. 24 Southwest Baptist (Mo.).

The Eagles – who fall into the Division II South Central Region, along with those two teams – have also defeated USTFCCCA regionally ranked teams including West Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Commerce (twice), Pittsburg State (Kan.), Alabama-Huntsville and Nova Southeastern (Fla.).

Two of the South Region’s top five teams will be at the Chile Pepper – Alabama-Huntsville (No. 1) and West Florida (No. 5) – along with national No. 28 New Mexico Highlands, Heartland Conference rival Dallas Baptist (Texas) and 24 NCAA Division I squads.

OC’s men will look to keep alive an impressive run of winning Heartland Conference runner of the week awards. Three OC runners (Geoffrey Njonjo, Roberto Diaz and Nick Stoots) have won the award at least once and an Eagle student-athlete has received the honor after each of OC’s four meets this fall.

The Lady Eagles have won the conference award twice in four meets, with Jacqueline Hallam and Tara Lewis each being honored. Lewis also was named as the NCCAA women’s cross country student-athlete of the week after her fifth-place finish last Saturday in the Bison Invitational in Shawnee.