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Cowboys, Cowgirls chase Big 12 cross country title

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Alex Maier

Alex Maier leads the No. 4 Cowboys cross country team who is seeking their third consecutive Big 12 championship. 

Dave Smith lounged in a faux leather couch with a 2019 Big 12 championship hat atop his head.

Several feet ahead of Smith, several Big 12 Championship trophies sat in a trophy case.

There are a lot of trophies in the room. He couldn’t find the 2020 or 2021 championship hats. No big deal that he wore an old one. Too many wins to choose from.

“This was the one that was in my car,” Smith, OSU’s cross country coach, said. “My hair is a mess. I just picked up what was in my car and put it on.”

Smith hopes to earn another hat and two trophies Friday at the Big 12 Cross Country Championships in Lubbock, Texas. The No. 4 Cowboys and the No. 3 Cowgirls enter as the heavy favorites despite some making their season debut this weekend.

Gabja Galvydyte, a junior middle-distance runner from Lithuania, will run in the women’s race.

“She’s on a whole new level right now,” Smith said. “She is not the athlete was last year that ran 2:01 (outdoors 800 meters) and was third at nationals. She is much better. It’s just her entire game.”

Smith likened Galvydyte’s improvement to a tall, inside-heavy basketball player who added a 3-point shot to their game. He doesn’t have any concerns in her season debut coming in the postseason. The unknown nature of her as a cross country runner could be a benefit for the team.

“She’s the one I’m most excited about watching, men or women,” Smith said. “Not necessarily because she’s gonna be the best. Maybe she will. Maybe she won’t. But it’s just someone who nobody else around the NCAA is thinking about, talking about and expecting to see something out of. I know something they don’t know.”

Two Cowgirl freshmen, Natalie Cook and Billah Jepkirui will run in Lubbock. Both won the Big 12 Women’s Runner of the Week this season.

The Cowgirls could snag their second straight conference championship.

“I think we definitely are in the best shape we have ever been,” Galvydyte said. “This race I think will tell a lot about us. Maybe people don’t expect that much but I think we’re way more than people expect, to be honest.”

On the men’s side, Isai Rodriguez will also race for the first time this season. A three-time Big 12 Championship runner-up, he said the team could win the national championship. 

“From the years past, it just seems like everybody gets so much better,” he said. “Just being around each other and just knowing that we’re all ready to win a national title. That’s what we’re all hoping for, expecting for and training for.”

Alex Maier, the Cowboy Jamboree champion, and Rory Leonard are expected to lead the Cowboys this weekend.

A win for the Cowboys would secure their third straight Big 12 championship. Smith said to watch out for Fouad Messaoudi, a sophomore from Morocco.

“He’s someone who nobody is talking about. Nobody is thinking about. Nobody understands how good of a runner he is.”

What: No. 4 Cowboys and No. 3 Cowgirls @ Big 12 Championships

Where: Lubbock, Texas

When: Women’s 6K: 10 a.m., Men’s 8K: 11 a.m.

Streaming: ESPN+