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Top teams to preview course, compete at Cowboy Jamboree

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Gabby Hentemann leads the pack over the hill at the OSU Invitational at the OSU Cross Country Course on October 17, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The NCAA Cross Country Championships don’t come to OSU until November, but some of the nation’s top teams aren’t waiting that long.

BYU (No. 4 Men’s, No. 7 Women’s), Colorado (No. 5 Men’s, No. 3 Women’s), Stanford (No. 3 Men’s, No. 5 Women’s) and Northern Arizona (No. 1 Men’s) are among the nationally ranked teams set to compete in the Cowboy Jamboree at the Greiner Family Cross Country Course on Saturday.

“This is the best field I think we've ever had at the Cowboy Jamboree, I think,” OSU cross country coach Dave Smith said.

In total, the second-ranked Cowboy team will start the season facing 15 of the top 30 men’s teams in USTFCCCA’s rankings, while the third-ranked Cowgirls compete against 10 ranked women’s teams.

“Two really loaded fields,” Smith said. “It's kind of a little mini national meet six weeks out from nationals.”

A big reason for the stacked field is the opportunity to scout the course ahead of the national championship. Teams have a chance to run the course, known for its difficulty, and put a game plan together before returning later in the fall.

“I think that's the idea,” Smith said. “I think that's why a lot of people want to come down here and get a look at the course, because a lot of their athletes have heard horror stories.”

Even senior distance runner Gabby Hentemann has been subjected to the horrors of her home course. At the 2020 Cross Country Championships, held in Stillwater, she finished 250th out of 253 competitors.

The course is unforgiving, with its deceptive beauty and steep hills. Even for a regular on the course, there’s no guarantee to run it well. Repetition on the course helps create a mental advantage more so than a physical one. 

“I think running it so much this year in practice, it doesn't make it easier because in my opinion, there's no such thing as easy cross country race,” Hentemann said. “But it makes it more familiar. And that takes kind of the fear away a bit.”

Sophomore runner Rory Leonard finished 14th at last year’s Cowboy Jamboree, but said the course’s difficulty is heavily dependent on a runner’s mindset coming into it each time.   

“The course changes on how you slept the night before, how you slept the night before that,” Leonard said. “Any internal factors, any small stresses from the day before. Stuff like that is what changes the course. The course stays the same the whole time. The only thing that changes is the person on it and how would you feel.”

The Cowboy Jamboree will give OSU and other programs the chance to gauge progress early in the season, and in no better place than the home of the national championship. How big of an advantage OSU has in constantly running the course is yet to be seen.

But it can’t hurt. After Saturday, all teams will have a better idea of what to expect for the ultimate meet in November – both competitively and course-wise.

“I use this analogy all the time. Like a golf course, I think each course kind of plays a certain way,” Smith said. “And I think knowing how this course runs, is important.”