HUTCHINSON – Parker Cowles wanted the Barton Community College cross country teams to be good again when he arrived three falls ago.
The program was once one of the best in nation. Four national titles. Numerous region titles and Top 10 finishes nationally. But it had all but gone away in the past 10 years.
Saturday Cowles saw that plan to return to relevance once again come to fruition. Problem was it would be his final meet as the coach of the Cougar harriers.
Just a week or so earlier coach Cowles had taken a job at the Air Force Academy to be a coach for the track team, a place he is familiar with being a graduate of the Academy in 2009.
Coach Cowles saw his team win both the individual and team titles for men and women Saturday at the Terry Masterson Invitational at Westar/Prairie Ridge Park in Hutchinson. The first such sweep since 2002.
“The meet win on Saturday was the first of my career at Barton and it was an emotional experience,” Cowles said. “It was a tough decision to leave a program that I helped build into a competitive team.”
The Cougars are indeed competitive. They boast the reigning NJCAA women’s champion in Lydia Mato. The Cougars finished 27th in the nation on the women’s side and 15th on the men.
This after fielding a full team had become a rarity since the 2003 season. The women didn’t have a full team the year he arrived in the fall of 2013 and the men were fielding their first full team since 2003.
That 2003 season the Barton men and women both finished fifth nationally but since then the emphasis was taken away from the sport.
Head track coach Dave Schenek brought the emphasis back and Cowles ran with it.
The finishes last season were the highest since that 2003 team and this season’s prospects look even better for the Cougars.
In the interim coach Schenek and assistant coach Tony Davis will take over the program until a replacement is hired.
“Barton cross country is filled with talented young athletes who were a joy to coach,” Cowles said. “Barton was a great opportunity for me and I am so grateful for the experience.
“I wish all the best for the Great Bend community and Barton community.”