Northwest Missouri State coach Brandon Masters talks to his team after the MIAA Indoor Championships in February at the Hughes Fieldhouse.

Over the summer, The Forum will be catching up with a different Bearcat team each week for our ‘State of the Program’ series where we will check in on where the program is now and what new faces they are bringing in for next season. This week focuses on the Bearcat cross country and track and field programs.

MARYVILLE, Mo. — Brandon Masters’ first month or so as the Northwest Missouri State cross country and track and field coach was a bit of a whirlwind. 

With Bearcat Director of Athletics Andy Peterson not being named to his position until late July of last year, Masters wasn’t selected to lead the Bearcat runners and field athletes until Aug. 8, with practice for cross country looming in just a week. 

“The first year was very difficult in that I did arrive so late,” Masters said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of recruiting or a lot of things that can happen immediately that first year. ... Not knowing my roster, I tried to get our kids to buy into a culture and change the mindset. I think we did a pretty good job.”

Despite the late start, Masters and his crew were able to hit the ground running and quickly made steps to show that they were a much improved program. 

“I saw a big paradigm shift for them,” Masters said. “It was a completely new type of training. I am a teacher, not necessarily a coach, so everything we do has a reason and I explain the reason. I think the first couple weeks were really tough, big learning curve, but as they pushed through the first six weeks, they began to understand the reasons why.”

A big reason for Masters to choose Northwest was the presence of the freshly completed Hughes Fieldhouse with its indoor track. 

“Northwest is an awesome school and great location, Maryville is an unbelievable town and they support their Bearcats like no other town — it is an unbelievable place to be,” Master said. “But I would not be here without Hughes. ... Being able to train at a high level and be on a track surface and hone our craft is unbelievable. I don’t have to have three workouts planned each day dependent on weather. It is 68 degrees everyday in Maryville, just open the door and go into Hughes.”

The new facility allows Masters to put an increased emphasis on the winter portion of the track season — the indoor season. The Bearcat women finished sixth in the MIAA during the indoor slate and the Bearcat men were the MIAA runners-up, falling just six points shy of dethroning traditional MIAA powerhouse Central Missouri. 

“We were six points out of winning and beating Central,” Masters said. “That would have been a fairy-tale type ending.” 

The successes continued during the spring’s outdoor season as freshman Omar Austin and senior Kevin Schultz each added Outdoor All-American honors to the All-American status they had earned during the winter season. 

“We had a pretty amazing year and it is because the kids bought in and believed,” Masters said. “They could have fought the system. Just like any new coach coming in, you hope that the kids can really dive into your system, your philosophy can mesh and you can achieve some really big things. I couldn’t be happier about this year and how it progressed.”

Junior Marcus Klein also earned Outdoor All-American status in the long jump while sophomore Jordan Hammond was an All-American for the second-straight season for the Bearcat women. 

“This team progressed a lot faster than I anticipated,” Masters said. “They needed a change, they wanted a change and I had upperclassmen to do it.”

Now with his first full summer to prepare as the leader of the Northwest program, Masters is excited about what his Bearcats can accomplish in year two. The only major point scorer that the Bearcat men lose is Schultz, who is transitioning to a graduate assistant role this season along with Sassie Matzen. 

“I feel like we are going to have a break-out season in cross country for the men,” Masters said.

For the women, they also return a bulk of their scoring from last season and have high hopes. 

“On the women’s side, we have a very large class of mostly freshmen who come from all over and are talented,” Masters said. “I’m excited. They are super raw. What I saw is five or six ladies that don’t know what they are doing yet and still have good numbers so that is exciting.”

With a fresh batch of recruits coming in to join the program, all signs are pointing to a big 2019-2020 campaign. 

“I feel like we are in a position, with the recruits coming in to score more points than we did last year,” Masters said. “And that is the goal.”

The Bearcat cross-country team will open its season at home on Aug. 31 with the Bearcat Open at Donaldson-Westside Park. 

“I’m very competitive,” Masters said. “My goal is always to win the conference. ... Last year was about surviving, this year is about winning. Do we have enough? Not sure yet, talk to me in about 12 weeks or so.

“Men and women both in indoor track and field are going to be scary good. Are we good enough? I don’t know yet.”