Joplin, Mo. — The nationally ranked Missouri Southern men’s and women’s cross country programs will play host to the 26th annual First to the Finish Southern Stampede on Saturday at the Missouri Southern Cross Country Course. cross_country2

A special presentation will also be part of this year’s event as longtime men’s track and field and cross country coach Tom Rutledge will have the MSSU Cross Country Course named after him in a ceremony that will take place after the last collegiate race, prior to the awards ceremony.

The Southern men are ranked 14th nationally and the Lions will be the lone Division II ranked team in the field this year. The competition will be fierce, however, as two Division I ranked programs will be part of the field in No. 18 Tulsa and No. 28 Oklahoma.

The Lions were picked as the pre-season favorites in the MIAA Cross Country Coaches Poll this season. Southern returns ten runners from last year’s squad that finished 19th at the 2013 NCAA Division II Championship. Four of the top five runners that helped the Lions to a second place showing at the 2013 MIAA Championships and a third place finish at the Central Region return to action.

Other local teams in the field on the men’s side include Drury, Newman, Southern Arkansas, Arkansas-Fort Smith, Pittsburg State, Missouri S&T and Arkansas Tech. Teams from outside the area will also be competing as Midwestern State and Dallas Baptist out of Texas will be making the trip, while East Central (Okla.), Rogers State, Oklahoma Christian, Oklahoma City and Maryville (St. Louis) will also be competing.

On the women’s side, the 15th ranked women are also the lone Division II ranked school in the field. Three Division I teams, including 8th ranked Arkansas will be running. Tulsa and Oklahoma will also field teams in the event.

The Southern women were picked to finish third in this year’s MIAA Cross Country Coaches Poll this season, but in a close vote, the Lions received three first-place votes and were just six points from being first. Southern returns 11 runners from a season ago and virtually every point scorer from last year’s fourth-place finishing squad at the MIAA Championships.

Pittsburg State is the only other MIAA school running in the event. Other local schools include Newman, Southern Arkansas, Drury, Newman, Arkansas Tech, and Missouri S&T. Schools from outside the region include Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Christian, Midwestern State, Newman, Rogers State, and Oklahoma City.

Other MIAA and Division II schools competing in the college/juco race are Lincoln, Central Oklahoma, Lindenwood, Northwestern Oklahoma and Southern Nazarene.

The event will have four collegiate races, as well as four high school races. First up on the morning will be the college/juco women’s race at 8 am, followed by the university/open women’s race at 8:30. The college/juco men’s race will be at 9 am, followed by the university/open men’s race at 9:45. The high school races will begin at 10:30 am.

Entry to the event will be $5 per person and fans can enter the race area at the corners of Newman and Duquesne roads.