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Thomas George prepared to make his move.

At the Nuttycombe Invitational on Oct. 18, George started fast but then took his foot off the gas to prepare for a final push in the biggest regular season collegiate cross country meet in the country.

But while George was waiting, bunches of runners caught up from behind him. When it was finally time for George to hit the gas pedal he found himself stuck in a pack of hundreds of runners and had nowhere to go.

“I feel like in my life I’ve never really had, like a race where I’ve been like, ‘Damn, I can’t move up,’” George said. “Whereas at Wisconsin I was at a point where I was like, I need to move out but I kept trying to move out and I’d get shoved back in.”

The race was a rude awakening for George and the Missouri men’s cross country team. George finished 73rd and the men’s team failed to finish, with four runners dropping out to leave Missouri without the five finishers required to place at the meet.

“For them it’s getting thrown in the deep end and having baptism by fire,” George said. “So it is kind of eye opening because you hear all this stuff about how this race is going to get out fast and then you get to it actually really does get out fast. Then you sink or swim and we didn’t have a good one.

“I feel like you learn a lot more from your bad days than your good days so that will help them going forward.”

George and the men’s team will have a chance to turn it around when they kick things off at the SEC Championships at 9 a.m. Friday in Lexington, Kentucky.The women’s team will follow the men’s and start at 10 a.m.

The women’s team had a different kind of experience in Madison, Wisconsin, two weeks ago.

Led by Sarah Chapman, Jordyn Kleve and Melissa Menghini, Missouri finished 20th out of 36 teams, upsetting three ranked teams and gaining needed at-large points for a possible NCAA Championship bid. The Tigers remained unranked in the latest Flo Track/USTFCAA poll Oct. 22.

“We kind of have a chip on our shoulder right now, because Flo Track keeps ranking us lower than what we know we can do,” Menghini said. “It’s pretty exciting having beaten teams that they are expecting to go to Nationals, or at least that they’re expecting to do well in their respective regions.”

The women’s team is looking to take that performance to a top-three finish at the conference championships. The men’s team is expected to finish at least inside the top-five.

“(On the women’s side) we’re going to have to bang somebody up front in the top 10 and then we gotta throw a big group in the top 20 to 25,” coach Marc Burns said. “I think the numbers from second through fifth will be fairly high because I don’t think anyone’s going to go in there and just dominate.”

Missouri will get a lift with the return of Tori Findley, an SEC All-Freshman honoree from last season who was one of the Tiger’s top returning runners.

She’s been out with a knee injury but started practicing with the team last week and will be ready to race on Friday, giving the women’s lineup a boost.

“She’s a gifted athlete that is a really great competitor,” Burns said. “It’s just been a while since she’s raced. So you never know (what to expect) when it’s been a while, but I think she’s physically ready to go.”

Burns said Mikayla Reed is fully healthy after dealing with illness most of the season. Both of the All-SEC freshmen runners will be needed to add some depth to the team after both finished in the top-30 at last year’s meet.

“We don’t need them to go out and do what they did last year, we just need them to go out and help us in that group,” Burns said. “We got to throw as many people in that group up in the top 20 to 25 as we can.”

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.

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