LOUISVILLE – Advancing to the NCAA Championships served as a primary objective coming into the cross country season for Texas A&M junior Karis Jochen. Achieving that accomplishment will have Jochen representing the Aggies on the E.P. Tom Sawyer course this Saturday with a race time set for 10 a.m. (CT).

Coverage of the meet will be online via the NCAA.com link – www.ncaa.com/liveschedule/2015/11/21.

Qualifying for the national championship race, earning her first white Texas A&M uniform which is reserved for the finals of NCAA competition, obliges only part of the goal set by Jochen coming into this campaign. Next on the checklist is to earn All-America status with a top 40 finish in the women’s 6,000-meter race.                                        

“Finishing as an All-American is the goal,” noted Texas A&M assistant coach Wendel McRaven. “Karis is well ahead of where she was last season at this time of the year and she is running better than her two teammates where at this point a year ago when they were All-Americans in cross country. There’s not always the perfect cause and effect relationship, but it gives us some insight and feedback to compare things.”

Jochen qualified for the national field with a fourth-place performance in the South Central Regional the Aggies hosted on the Dale Watts course. That followed a fifth-place effort by Jochen on the same course during the SEC Championships.

In 2014 Jochen placed eighth in the conference race and 10th in the region meet, where she just missed qualifying for nationals to join teammates Grace Fletcher and Hillary Montgomery, who placed 29th and 39th, respectively, to earn All-America honors.

“Last year seeing how close I was to making nationals, but not quite getting it, was definitely a motivator,” stated Jochen. “It made me a stronger person and runner for this year. I had to re-evaluate everything that I did, not only my training but my lifestyle and mental mindset. 

“I think that process has made me better, and I’ve been able to focus on what I need to do to reach my potential.”

McRaven added: “She’s done a great job in pretty much every meet she has raced this year, putting herself in a good position and racing some of the best girls in the country. The Louisville course is more similar to our course, since it seems to be pretty fast. Last time we ran there for nationals is when Henry Lelei, who finished fifth, and James Hodges advanced to the meet and both of those guys ran fast.”

The SEC will be represented by No. 3 Arkansas, No. 17 Mississippi State and No. 27 Vanderbilt among the women’s teams in the field along with the following individuals who join Jochen at the NCAA starting line – Chelsea Blaase of Tennessee, Katelyn Greenleaf of Alabama and Auburn’s Brenda Kigen.

“Once the gun goes off it will be standard operating procedure for Karis, who will be pretty familiar with most of the girls up front,” noted McRaven. “There shouldn’t be too many surprises.

“The SEC, particularly on the women’s side, is a little bit of an underrated distance conference. When you race in the SEC, on the women’s distance side of things, you get some experience racing some really good runners. Then when it comes to the postseason people are ready to line up and knock heads. She has gotten that experience and I think that can only make you better.”

Dominique Scott of Arkansas, who won the SEC and South Central Region races on the Watts course, finished sixth in the NCAA Championships in 2014 while Blaase, the 2015 SEC runner-up and winner of the South Regional, placed 10th.

“Scott and Blaase both have been among the front runners in national events,” said McRaven. “Karis knows who they are and should have a level of comfort when she sees them around her.”

Jochen also faced talented competition during the Notre Dame Invitational in early October when she placed 15th over a 5,000-meter distance. The meet included five teams who were among the top 30 in the national rankings leading into the NCAA Championship race – No. 1 New Mexico, No. 8 North Carolina State, No. 15 Notre Dame, No. 20 Utah, and No.27 Vanderbilt. 

“We didn’t get out very well at Notre Dame and that’s a course where there is little bit more of a premium on getting out,” said McRaven. “So, since then she has gotten out pretty well in every race we’ve run in. It shouldn’t be an issue this weekend as the course is so wide-open at the start for a national meet.”

In winning the Texas A&M Invitational in September as well as the Alabama Crimson Classic in October, Jochen battled for each victory against some tough and talented runners who offered a stern challenge late in each race.

“This season has been an eye-opening experience as far as learning how to race better,” indicated Jochen. “Getting to race against some great competitors this season is a good reminder that you can’t just run down the competition. In racing another runner sometimes it comes down to who is mentally the strongest.”

Jochen’s mental game is sharp as she maintains a 4.0 grade point average in Business Honors at Texas A&M. She was recently chosen as the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in voting by the conference coaches.

Another positive aspect to Jochen’s junior campaign with the Aggies is the closeness of the team, which has made for an enjoyable season during practices, competitions and time spent together away from the sport.

“This season has been a lot of fun, especially qualifying for nationals makes it more fun,” said Jochen. “Even before the regional meet it had been an awesome season.

“The women’s and men’s teams bonded really well this year. I think from the girls’ perspective it really felt like a team and everyone was encouraging each other and wanted to see the success of everyone else. For a lot of the girls I think the closeness of the team helped them fall in love with running again. Seeing their mental approach to running this year was awesome to witness.”


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