Cross country motivated to improve on last season’s finish

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Cross country motivated to improve on last season’s finish

Photo courtesy of UA Athletics

Photo courtesy of UA Athletics

Photo courtesy of UA Athletics

Photo courtesy of UA Athletics

Carey Reeder | @realCareyReeder, Staff Reporter

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With the start of a new school year comes the start of a new season for Alabama’s cross country teams, which kicked off their seasons on Saturday, Aug. 31 at the Brooks Memphis Twilight Classic.

“We’ve been through a lot of struggles this season,” senior Rebecca Buteau said following last season. “The success, though, of the guys this year will help us and motivate us on the girl’s side.”

And motivating it was.

After an eighth-place finish at the NCAA South Regional last season, the women’s team took home first place in the opening weekend in Memphis, Tennessee. In her first race for the Crimson Tide, freshman Allison Wilson led the way finishing in fourth place in the 5,000-meter race. Buteau has been with Wilson more than anyone in her short time in Tuscaloosa and made a huge impact on helping the Texas native in her first collegiate race.

“She’s been my training partner since I got here and she’s helped me so much,” Wilson said. “Being able to have her out there to push me through the race was a huge difference.”

Wilson’s performance in the opening race earned her SEC Women’s Freshman of the Week honors.

“It’s an honor to see all the hard work I put in during summer and the early practices pay off,” Wilson said. “To start my freshman year that way was a huge boost for me.”

Three seniors, three freshmen and one sophomore finished inside the top 20 in Memphis. With a nice mixture of experience and hungry young runners, distance coach Will Palmer said he’s confident the women’s team will improve upon that eighth-place finish in regionals last season and make a push for the NCAA Championships.

On the men’s side, replacing the production of one of the most decorated Alabama runners will be the top priority. Alfred Chelanga, the only Crimson Tide runner to earn back-to-back All-American honors at the NCAA cross country championships, departed from Tuscaloosa leaving a gap at the top of the men’s team. However, Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop, who were All-Americans in cross country in 2017 and in outdoor track in 2018, return to run as graduate students this season. 

“We’re starting to become all upperclassmen on our team,” head coach Dan Waters said before the start of the 2018 cross country season. “That’s an amazing advantage to have when it comes to races.”

The men’s team will have that advantage again with Kigen and Kiprop leading and guiding the team’s six freshmen throughout the season. Beyond the leadership, the freshmen have arrived in full force, sweeping the top four finishers for the Crimson Tide in their opening race. Jacob Wiggers (13th), Grady Shiflet (17th), Nick Ceci (22nd) and Rich Saenz (23rd) all finished inside the top-25 in their first four-mile collegiate race.

Both Alabama cross country teams will be in action Saturday at the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Alabama for the Falcon Classic.