university of new orleans hosts first cross country meet since katrina
Written by Tim Shannon, feature writer for the New Orleans Privateers
The New Orleans Privateer cross country program began their foray into the Southland Conference athletics with the UNO XC Relay Opener last Friday evening, an event that started a new chapter in UNO Athletics
The Privateer cross country team hosted its first meet since prior to Hurricane Katrina, welcoming crosstown rival Tulane and fellow Southland Conference rivals Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana. The 6K relay event took place at Lake Oaks Park across from campus.
"It is always great to be able to host a meet and have your student-athletes participate at home," said Athletic Director Derek Morel. "It does not happen a lot in cross country and for us it has not happened in a while."
Katrina in 2005 put a dent in athletics, but the choice to remain in Division I and the subsequent decision to join the Southland Conference have started a tremendous rebound for all sports programs at the university.
"Bringing back track and field last year is an important part of our evolution as a program and getting us to where we need to be in Division I," said Morel. "It is exciting to see all of our new track and field student-athletes here, excited about wearing our colors and getting out there and competing. It is real special for us."
The UNO XC Relays Opener was the result of a collaboration from the entire athletic department, as well as the support from other UNO student-athletes who were in attendance, including Reese Kanter of the Privateer baseball team.
"Last year we were not as involved, but this year we get to come out and see our athletes at home and get to support them," said Kanter. "And hopefully they can come out and support us."
"We like supporting the school and setting an example that we are all a family."
Kanter also expressed that the upperclassmen wanted to be there to support a young cross country team composed of mostly freshmen.
The UNO ROTC program was also among some of the volunteers who attended the event. Privateer runner Michael Mahler, who ran in Friday's event, is also a member of the ROTC. The group is headed by Sergeant First Class Haywood Harrison, who was more than happy to bring his group out to the event.
"I had an opportunity to meet Coach (Benjamin) Dalton earlier in the summer," said Harrison. "He asked me if we wanted to participate."
"Of course any opportunity we (the ROTC) have for exposure on campus, we are more than happy to jump on board."
Harrison spoke very highly of the athletic department's efforts and even compared the event to a professional race such as the Crescent City Classic. He said that this is the first time his group is involved with an athletic event, but he is eager and willing to do more.
When it came down to actually running the meet, Coach Katherine Hoskins expressed her anticipation even before the event. She mentioned her desire to get her first look at the new freshman class and who the leader of the course was going to be. She was also eager to see how the group works together in pairs in the relay format of the meet.
"Something we talked about in practice this week was that the effort, the attitude, and the consistency are very contagious things," said Hoskins. "Getting to see all this come together, though, is the biggest thing."
She continued to say that putting on the event was a lot of hard work, but she said that the support from the university staff as well as other athletic teams has been very strong. Dalton also echoed these sentiments.
"I just really appreciate all the help from the volunteers," said Dalton. "The support we have gotten from everyone involved has been great."
All hands from the athletic department were on deck to see this event happen. Associate Athletic Director and former UNO track athlete Ola Adegboye had the chance to shoot off the starting gun for the event.
Assistant Athletic Director Brandon Rizzuto wanted to offer a special thanks to the UNO ROTC, who helped with handing out water, Lagniappe Ministries, who provided food after the event, and Varsity Sports, who provided much of the equipment used on Friday.
After the event, Hoskins had nothing but good things to say about the event as a whole.
"It could not have turned out any better," Hoskins said. "Two weeks ago I was nervous, but with the support of the athletics staff and everyone around us, it really happened better than I expected."
She went on to say that it was good to open the season at home with fans cheering on. She also expressed how running against other Southland Conference teams was a good confidence builder for her young team.
On the success of the event and what it means to UNO, Morel credited Hoskins and Dalton with all their hard work and keeping everything together during the transitions the last few years.
"Our administration stepped up and helped those two out," said Morel. "We cannot do something like this without a large group of volunteers. It just goes to show you the pride and passion that people have about the University and the program that everyone wants to be successful."
Dual Victory: Taking advantage of a favorable home crowd, the UNO women's team got the evening off to a solid start in defeating Southland foe Nicholls 9-14 while also claiming a win over a shorthanded Southeastern Louisiana squad.