For the past four years, Tracy Jex’s focus has been on building the tradition and the trajectory of his cross country programs. Last season, the men’s and women’s squads swept the American Midwest Conference titles – for the men, the fifth in the six-year history of the program – and advanced to the NAIA National Championships. With the men finishing in second at the national meet, it’s safe to say Jex’s focus has been rewarded. Just don’t expect him to take the credit.
“We always put the focus on our student-athletes. It’s not about us; it never has been, and never will be,” he said.
While that may be true, it’s still Jex’s job to replace All-Americans like Tommy Skosky, who helped lead the Cougars to that second-place finish in Ft. Vancouver, Washington, by running the second-fastest 8-kilometer race in school history.
Junior Malik Holman is among those Jex and his assistant, Daniel Radkowiec, are turning to for leadership this season, and it’s easy to see why. Holman won the AMC individual title as a freshman in 2016, and followed that up with a seventh-place finish last year. Ten freshmen also join the men’s squad this season.
On the women’s side, the coaching staff is immediately counting on another freshman, Brianna Haller, who won a total of 10 state titles – including all four Class 2 Cross Country races – at Fatima High School.
“She’s pretty special. She had plenty of options, could have chosen a lot of schools, and she came here,” said Radkowiec, who’s beginning his third season as Jex’s right-hand man. “That reinforces that Tracy’s got the program in the right direction.”
The Cougars’ program has grown from fewer than 20 runners combined when Jex took over in 2016, to nearly double that now.
“It’s cool that we have the rural kid that graduated with 20 others in his class, that thinks a thousand students is huge, and we also have the kid from Webster Groves or Battle that graduated with five or six hundred that chose to go to a smaller school for college,” said Radkowiec. “It’s great to have that mix of kids, almost all from the state of Missouri.”
Both teams begin their 2018 seasons on Saturday, Sept. 1, at the SBU Bearcat Invite in Bolivar, Missouri. The AMC Championships take place on Friday, Nov. 2, in Elsah, Illinois., with the NAIA National Championships taking place two weeks later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
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