With only three returnees, the UAFS men's cross country look to make early strides.

Cooler temperatures throughout the area this week have been a blessing for members of the UAFS men’s cross country team, which began its preseason practice on Wednesday.

The Lions practice at 6:30 a.m. once a day at Fort Smith’s Trinity Junior High, and first-year UAFS head coach Zane Gibson has put the Lions through a varied workout, which, this week, includes some sprint work.

“We are going to do a variation of things,” said Gibson, who also is assistant men’s basketball coach. “We are going to do some things they are probably accustomed to, and we’re going to try to do some things they aren’t accustomed to that I have from my other background that hopefully will be fun for them and also be beneficial for them.”

So far, Gibson said he’s pleased with how workouts are going.

“I have been really happy with where we’re at right now,” Gibson said. “I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by all the guys”

It is almost an entirely new team with only three runners returning from last season’s team that finished sixth in the Heartland Conference Meet – senior Ian Carter from Greenwood, senior Nico Hall from Poteau, Okla., and junior Mason Rhodes from Russellville.

“Our leadership has been great with our returning three guys,” Gibson said. “Mason, Nico and Ian have done great leading us so far. It looks like our culture is in the right place, and I think we’ll have a pretty good year.”

The Lions’ roster will feature nine newcomers – junior Jamee Montoya from Alma, junior Gray Stell from Fort Smith, sophomore Brooks Hedstrom from Bentonville, freshman Kaid Hurd from Fayetteville, freshman Oliver Perez from Berryville, freshman Will Phillips from Mount Pleasant, Texas, freshman Noah Young from Fayetteville, freshman Miguel Contreras from Bentonville, and freshman Christian White from Alma.

“Will and Brooks have stood out as two guys I think will make an impact as newcomers,” Gibson said.

The Lions will compete in four regular season meets this season – the Central Oklahoma Land Run (Sept. 3) in Edmond, Okla., the Missouri Southern State Stampede (Sept. 17) in Joplin, Mo., the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival (Oct. 1) in Fayetteville, and the University of the Ozarks Invitational (Oct. 8) in Clarksville.

UAFS also will compete in the Heartland Conference Meet (Oct. 22) in Mansfield, Texas.