Texans deliver best cross country performance of DI era at UTA to open season

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GRAND PRAIRIE – A Saturday morning sunrise gave way to the apex of the Division I era for Tarleton cross country. 

At least for now, anyway. 

The Texans turned in 10 collegiate 5k personal records in their season-opening meet at the UTA Invitational at Lynn Creek Park. The men placed third in a with 64 points and an average time of 15:27.30 while the women took fifth at 126 points and a 19:42.90 team pace. 

Tarleton’s men’s 5k performance was by far the program’s fastest in recent memory. Five of the six Texan competitors – four of whom are freshmen – placed inside the top-20 in a meet field that featured regional Division I foes North Texas, SMU and TCU. 

Leading the pack was junior Kevin Baez, who took a major step toward breaking Tarleton’s outdoor 5k record. Baez was Tarleton’s highest finisher in either race, placing fourth in 14:58.40. The performance marked the first top-five cross country finish in Baez’s Texan career and was the fifth time he cracked the top-10. 

Following Baez were freshmen John Sutton and Khristian Vastlik, who placed 12th and 13th, respectively, with times of 15:26 and 15:26.40. Dominick Vastlik, a junior and the older brother of Khristian, and Mason Alexander then crossed the finish line 15th and 20th to ensure all five of Tarleton’s scored competitors cracked the top-20. Vastlik notched a cross country 5k personal record of 15:37 while Alexander debuted with a time of 15:48.60. Rounding out the men’s slate was fellow newcomer Angel Gomez, who finished one spot behind Alexander at No. 21. In 15:52.90. 

On the women’s side, head coach Pat Ponder entered a lineup featuring three returners and three newcomers. Four of the six athletes finished inside the top-30 and four 5k personal bests were set. 

Jenna Brazeal was Tarleton’s top performer, as the junior took 15th in 18:57.80. Brazeal – who turned in the Texans’ fastest 6k time (23:26.17) during the shortened spring 2021 season – surpassed her previous personal record by more than 45 seconds. 

Also shattering her previous personal best was Johnnie Wilkinson, Tarleton’s lone senior on either side. The Fort Worth, Texas native crossed the finish line 23rd in 19:39.40 to improve her 5k time by 43 seconds. 

Finishing third and fourth for Tarleton were freshmen Allison Hedrick and Sage Lancaster. Hedrick placed 27th with a time of 19:54.30 in her first-ever 5k cross country race while Lancaster was 30th in 20:02.20. 

The biggest personal record of the morning belonged to Kaleigh Ellis. The junior finished 31st at 20:02.80 and to notch a 1:52 improvement on her cross country 5k time. 

Concluding the race for Tarleton was sophomore Aimee Landers-Wilburn. The Austin College transfer nabbed 32nd place with a time of 20:05.90. 

Tarleton now breaks for a week before returning to action on Sept. 25 at the Texas A&M Invitational in College Station. 

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