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Lamar men continue Southland XC dynasty; Chavez wins

Lamar sports information

NACOGDOCHES — Lamar cross country continued its unprecedented run at the Southland Conference Championships.

Its men’s team scored 43 points to claim its fourth-straight title and 10th in 11 seasons Friday morning at the Pecan Acres Park, near the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University.

On the women’s side, Evelyn Chavez earned Lamar its sixth individual championship when she crossed the finish line in 21:12.8. She – along with Jannika John’s individual third place finish – led the women’s team to its second-straight third place finish.

The men’s win notched the third time in school history that LU won at least four championships in a row improved the overall count to 15 Southland Conference titles.

Stephen F. Austin claimed second place with 62 points, followed by McNeese’s 68 in third place.

Behind Freddie Gasbarri’s second-place finish, Lamar claimed four runners in the top 10 and the fifth finisher was 19th. Freddie recorded his 8,000-meter career-best mark on a 24:20.1 time and only trailed Stephen F. Austin’s Charles Mathenge (24:11.8).

It was the fifth time in the last 11 season that the Cardinals took the team championship without the individual champion.

“This was a great team effort. We didn’t rely on a ‘Big Gun’ up front, but the pack running was our strength and it really came together for us when it mattered most,” said cross country coach Tony Houchin.

Gasbarri was LU’s top finisher in three of the four pre-championships races, and bested his previous career mark – which was set in his last race at the Bradley Classic (24:25.1). Heading into this season, his top mark was 25:05.0 set in 2014.

“Freddie didn’t try to chase Charles early enough in the race, but that was part of the plan. We didn’t want to sacrifice the team goal,” said Houchin. “Freddie has tremendously improved. He wasn’t even in our top seven last year, and this year he was the clear number one for us. Championships are won in the offseason, and he put in a lot of work before we got on campus.”

Last season, Gasbarri was 32nd at the league meet, eighth finisher for the Cardinals.

Tobias Riker was the second-best finisher for Lamar and fourth overall with a 24:25.6 run, his second best career mark. Stu Ferguson crossed eighth overall with a 24:35.7 mark, smashing his previous best of 24:57.8. Sean Chalmers rounded out the Cardinal in the top 10 with a 24:43.8 mark.

“Freddie wasn’t the only guy to put in tremendous work in the offseason,” said Houchin. “Look at Stu Ferguson. He was our seventh best runner a year ago, and he finished in the top 10 this season.”

Ferguson finished 30th in 2015.

All four guys were awarded All-Southland Conference honors, and Gasbarri and Riker were named to the first team.

“Knowing that people are gunning for you is a different-type of pressure than trying to win something for the first time,” said Houchin. “We are very accustomed to handling that pressure. It is a testament not only the current guys on the team, but anyone who has been on the team. It’s a culture that has been bred, and we’re just carrying the torch forward.”

Keith Fallon rounded out the scorers for the men’s team with a 25:05.0 time.

Chavez vastly improved her positioning at the Southland Conference meet, a 6,000-meter event.

“That was a huge improvement for Evelyn. She finished 10th in her freshman season and 11thlast year, and this season she showed up as an individual champion,” said Houchin. “That is a testament to the hard work she has put in, and is a good story as local Texas kid.”

“Tony does a great job of setting up a race plan for us. Jannika and I ran a really relaxed race through the first three kilometers, and after we started to roll. With one kilometer to go, we started to make a move,” said Chavez. “I’m really, really proud of how our team finished.

“It feels great,” she said. “It fulfills that goal we had in mind to start the season.”

She and John led the group for most of the race, but Sam Houston’s Ana Moreno snuck in during the last couple of kilometers and claimed second. John crossed in 21:19.4. The two have finished together in each race of the year, and have topped the Lamar unit each time.

“Jannika was third last year and she was third again this season,” said Houchin. “It’s hard to find that kind of consistency in any conference, no matter where you look.”

As she has been all year, Georgia Tuckfield was Lamar’s third finisher with a 22:26.3 in 16th overall. Erika DeWitt was the fourth to cross for Lamar in 46th 24:08.2 and Alexandra Sokolva, who battled an injury throughout, was 48th 24:09.2 time. That rounded out the scorers for Big Red.

“I am proud of the ladies and their third-place finish,” said Houchin. “They really worked to improve and had to make life changes.”

Meghan DuPree finished the race with a 24:28.1 time and Evie Reavis in 24:47.2.

Incarnate Word finished the race fifth on 114 points, followed by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (117), Central Arkansas (130), McNeese (152), Houston Baptist (191), Abilene Christian (259), Southeastern Louisiana (277), Northwestern State (316) and Nicholls (363).

On the men’s side, Corpus Christi took fourth on 125 points, followed by SHSU (131), UCA (149), HBU (154), UIW (194), SLU (314), UNO (327), Northwestern State (341) and Nicholls (428).

Other finishers for the Cardinal men were Kyle Garica (25:40.6), TaMar Hicks (26:10.3), and Tye Norman (26:28.7).

Next on the docket for Lamar cross country is the NCAA South Central Regionals, which will be hold at Arkansas slated for Nov. 11.