Jaggers in the midst of rare territory

Josh Buckman

Most freshmen don’t make much of an impact on Western’s cross country teams. But this season Nicole Jaggers hasn’t run like the average freshman.

In her first season competing at Western, Jaggers has been one of the top three Lady Topper finishers in every meet so far. She started the season as the No. 5 runner but after the first race quickly vaulted to No. 3, where she remains today.

However, coach Curtiss Long said there is an excellent chance the best is yet to come for Jaggers.

“I think in comparison to where Nicole will be a year or two years from now is that she will not look back at this season as a great season,” Long said.

This weekend Jaggers will run in the most important meet of her young college career – the 6,000-meter Sun Belt Conference Championships.

The championships begin at 10 a.m. Saturday for the women and 11 a.m. for the men at Kereiakes Park.

“I hope to be a top 10 runner at conference,” Jaggers said. “I just want to be the best runner I can be and contribute to the team as much as I can.”

Jaggers’ talent as a runner was discovered her freshman year at Edmonson County High School by the cross country coach, who had noticed her running ability as a basketball player.

“He watched me play basketball a couple of times and he thought I was a good runner,” Jaggers said. “He asked me to come to practice and see if I liked it.”

She did and she went on to become one of the top runners in the region as she captured the regional title in the mile and two-mile in track and field.

Her success caught Long’s eye, but it was not until the summer before her senior year that she became interested in Western. At a road race she met some members of Western’s cross country team and was convinced to take a look at Western.

She did and eventually decided to become a Hilltopper.

Last summer, when she got her first chance to work out with her teammates, she put in what Long called a “collegiate summer.”

Her summer workouts coupled with team practices impressed the coaching staff enough that they decided not to redshirt her – the only freshman who wasn’t this season.

Her performance at practice added talent to a Lady Topper team that has already been picked to win the SBC Championships.

The team also benefits from her personality.

“She’s pleasant,” Long said. “She’s got a good sense of humor, and when the gun fires, she’s like that old commercial says, does things the old fashion way. If you beat her, you earned it.”

So far Jaggers has been able to consistently put up solid finishes so far in the season that have helped the team stay competitive.

“It’s a very difficult thing for a freshman to be able to perform well during their initial season,” Long said. “When one does, you count it as a blessing.”

If Jaggers can remain healthy for the next few years, the team expects her to improve.

“I just want to get better each practice,” Jaggers said. “I hope to improve with each race.”

Grandfield’s confident he’ll be back

Three weeks after Senior Enda Grandfield suffered a rib injury, he expects to return to competition.

Grandfield, Western’s No. 1 male runner, leads a group that was picked to win the conference in preseason voting by conference coaches.

Grandfield holds the conference’s lowest time this season in the 8,000 meter distance in 24 minutes 59.39 seconds. Grandfield set the mark Sept. 20 at the Old Timers Classic. That was the 19th fastest time in the history of the five-mile course.

Last season, the men finished second in the Championships at North Texas.

Arkansas-Little Rock is expected to battle Western for the top spot this weekend. The Trojans won both the men’s and women’s titles last year.

Reach Josh Buckman at [email protected]