Nov. 3, 2011
Pursell and Bearcats anxious for Regional Championships
By David Boyce
On the bus trip to Wichita, Texas, Northwest Missouri State senior TR Pursell may have too many other things on his mind to truly reflect on a cross country career that has seen the Bearcats men’s team rise from eighth in the MIAA his freshman season to second this year.
The focus for Pursell is running the best race possible Saturday morning at the South Central Regional and help Northwest challenge for one of the top two spots to advance to NCAA Division II Cross Country Championship on Nov. 19 in Spokane, Wa.
Pursell, who finished fifth two weeks ago at the MIAA Championship, could also advance to nationals by being one of the top two runners who are not on the two qualifying teams.
“I was just short last year,” Pursell said.
Whatever happens, it has been a rewarding running career for Pursell. He will leave Northwest with many memories, some of which will be created on the trip this week.
“It’s my last guaranteed cross country race,” Pursell said. “I do not think too much about it now. I’m sure as soon as the race is over, I will be thinking about it a lot.
“I have been here five years. I came in 07. You see many things and you experience a lot. If you ask anybody, you would never trade it for anything else. It’s the shenanigans, the stories, the trips and races that are the experiences you get being an athlete.”
It has been a worthwhile ride for Pursell, created by his legs and drive to be the best he can be. It meant running many hours in the summer to be ready for competition in the fall.
As a freshman, Pursell didn’t have much help. An injury his sophomore year forced him to redshirt. Also, before the start of his second season at Northwest, Pursell got a new coach in Scott Lorek.
“His adjustment with a new style and a new philosophy was probably a little more difficult than some other guys,” Lorek said.
“I think we work well together. He has been a leader in every way, and more importantly, just by the example he has shown consistently.”
Pursell is the type of runner a new coach can build around and raise expectation.
When Lorek arrived in 2008, the expectations for Northwest’s men’s cross country team was low.
“It wasn’t many years ago when we read things on websites that said, ‘well one thing you can be sure of is Northwest will come in last.’ We would see stuff like that,” Lorek said.
After Lorek’s first cross country season, he addressed the situation.
“We had a team meeting and we had to be direct and put things on the table exactly what I expected from them from a coaching perspective,” Lorek said. “Though it was difficult, I thought it helped. Our guys really grew after that and became not seven individuals running a race, but a team. That is where accountability came in.”
Each season, Pursell saw a change in new teammates coming in. In 2009, the Bearcats finished sixth in the MIAA and last year they rose to third.
“Every class, one or two guys are pretty good and really care about the program,” Pursell said. “Every year you get a couple of more and a couple of more and eventually you get a team like this with a lot of guys who care and a lot of guys who perform well.”
Pursell can tell his teammates care about running well as much as he does.
“He is at practice and wants to be at practice,” Pursell said. “He wants to do the workouts. He wants to do the miles on the weekend. He is calling you asking when you are going to run. When you hear from them over the summer talking about running you know they are putting their time in and they care.”
Of the seven men runners Lorek is taking to regional, three are seniors. Zach Layton and Clay Martin are the other two.
Junior Ryan Darling and sophomore Jake Henry are consistently in the top four of Northwest runners and will be back next season. The other two runners going to regional are junior Jared Walker and freshman Drew Keefer.
Lorek has added depth. It caused him to make a tough decision on who he couldn’t take. One of the runners with a promising future is freshman Chris Anderson.
“Chris is doing great,” Lorek said. “With Drew and Chris as freshman I think it is tremendous for us.”
The Bearcats are as ready for this regional as they have ever been.
“We are really anxious,” Pursell said. “We are trying to ride this high from conference. We want to show that it wasn’t a fluke. We are that good, and we can be better. Some of us raced kind of flat at conference. We could have had better days. We are excited to get everybody on their A game at regional.
“For my final cross country season I couldn’t ask for too much better. I’m happy leaving with this team.”
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