The West Virginia cross country team will begin the postseason this Saturday when they travel to Round Rock, Texas, to compete in the 2017 Big 12 Championships.
The Mountaineers have finished in the top three at the Big 12 championships each of the last four seasons, including a third-place finish a year ago.
WVU is coming off an eighth-place finish in its regular season finale at Penn State earlier this month. Despite the underwhelming team finish, Head Coach Sean Cleary says that he was still impressed with his runners.
"We ran nine girls, and I thought we had seven really good races," Cleary said. "Individually speaking, I feel like we ran a very good race."
According to Cleary, Iowa State, the defending Big 12 champs, are expected to be the team that the field will be chasing. Oklahoma State, the 2016 runner-up, should be the team with the best shot for an upset.
WVU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas are the second-tier teams with the best shot to contend for a title.
The Mountaineers can greatly improve their chances at a title if senior Jill Forsey is able to race Saturday. Cleary says that it will be a "game-time decision" whether or not Forsey will be able to compete.
Forsey finished second overall in last year’s Big 12’s, so she would absolutely be an asset if she’s healthy. But if she can’t go, WVU still has seniors Maggie Drazba and Amy Cashin to carry the torch.
Forsey, Drazba and Cashin have been on two teams that have made it to the national championships in their career, but Cleary believes his seniors still have a lot more to accomplish.
"Forget the individual successes that they’ve had," Cleary said. "I think their legacy will be leading this team with courageous runs in the next three weeks, and quite honestly preparing them for the future."
Cleary also says that the experience the trio brings could carry them far into the postseason.
"A lot of teams would be ecstatic to have one returning class of an elite eight and a top-25 finish (nationally), but this team wants a little more," Cleary said. "They’re doing whatever they can to put this team into the national championships in three weeks."
WVU has needed to rely on youth all season with Forsey out. Cleary says that the younger girls have performed well in the regular season, but now he’s hoping to see the rest of his team mature over the next few weeks.
"(The question is) can they get out there and eliminate pressure and run to the best of their ability," Cleary said. "I have faith that they can do so."
Saturday’s meet is slated to begin at 11 a.m.