Sophomore Shanoah Souza
Sept. 26, 2013
DALLAS (SMU) - SMU sophomore cross country runner Shanoah Souza has her sights set on helping lead the Mustangs to their fifth conference championship in the past six years.
Since head coach Cathy Casey arrived at the Hilltop in 2005, the Mustang cross country program has won four Conference USA Championships and continues to set new standards and goals at the regional and national level. The recent era of success has led to top high school recruits such as Souza choosing SMU.
"Shanoah's senior year in high school, she was ranked very high in the two-mile run and our coaching staff made it a priority for us to get her," Casey said.
Souza said the first school she visited was SMU and it was a good fit for her.
"I fell in love with it," Souza said. "Following my visit, I did my due diligence and visited many other schools, but as I compared it to the rest, none were even close."
Souza's family has played an important role in her athletic and academic pursuits, especially in her decision to run competitively.
Her father, Kenny, was a professional triathlete/dual athlon competitor. A triathlete participates in events that include swimming, cycling and running in immediate succession over various distances. Triathletes compete for fastest overall course completion time, including timed "transitions" between the segments.
As she grew older, Souza was amazed by what her father did. While she followed football, basketball and other sports, she knew everything about professional running because of her father's contacts and participation in the field.
"Nowadays, when everyone talks about a famous runner, I kind of play along, as it is not a big deal to me," she said. " Because I more than likely know who they are."
She was able to meet many of the people whose names she learned, but through it all, the biggest influence in her athletic career was always her father. She counts on him for advice regarding an upcoming race or reviewing what happened in a previous race, and she gets help and advice from her older brother, Dalton, too.
"I always looked up to Dalton and my dad. I just wanted to make them proud," Souza said.
Souza has two younger siblings, Nicolette and Corbin, who are 7 and 5, respectively. So as her athletic career has developed, she has learned what it is like to be an example for younger people.
Souza said Nicolette and Corbin want to be runners just like her. She said their ambitions make her feel humble. Their young ages also have given Shanoah experience in thinking like a mom. She said the activities she did growing up helped make her independent and led to the idea of leaving home in California for college.
Souza, a communication studies major, said she dreams of working for Nike as a start to her career. Souza said she has always been a huge fan of Nike and would be open to any job within the company.
Being a student-athlete at SMU means much more to her then just running races and practicing. She also wants to get the most out of her academic classes to prepare herself for the working world after graduation.
Her mother, Darla, helps her balance her time between academics and running.
"I have the best of both worlds," Souza explained. "My mom is always encouraging me to take a day off, relax and study, while my dad is pushing me and wanting me to be the best that I can be for every race."
Athletically, the transition from high school competition to NCAA Division I races was fairly simple. Souza said her high school program was competitive and runners worked together as friends, similar to the environment she said that Casey has created at SMU.
Due to a knee injury she sustained in the fall of 2011, Souza redshirted her freshman year. During her year away from the sport, she said she developed a greater appreciation for everything involved in running, including an appreciation of her teammates, the levels of competition and even something as simple as daily practice.
"I don't know how I would have gotten through my injury without the help of all my teammates, especially my roommate, Holly (Archer)," Souza explained. "Being a team, we help each other through everything, and I am grateful they were all there for me when I needed them."
In the fall of 2012 when she returned from injury, the Mustangs captured the C-USA Championship. Souza said it was difficult to put into words the feelings of joy when SMU won. She said it inspired everyone and motivates them now to win another championship.
"I wear my conference championship ring everywhere I go to remind myself how great this one felt and how bad I want another," Souza said.
Casey described Souza's efforts a year ago as important to the Mustangs' success.
"Shanoah loves competing, she loves her teammates and she just wants everyone to perform their best," Casey said. "She is a competitor until the end whether she is running in the race or not."
Last year at the NCAA regional, Mary Alenbratt (now graduated) made it to the NCAA Championships. Although everyone involved with the SMU cross country was happy for Alenbratt, the entire team realized they missed an opportunity to do something special as a team.
"Our No. 1 goal for the Mustangs this season is to make it to nationals," Souza said. "Winning conference is understood as a team goal, but this year we all have our sights set even higher."
Souza and the other five returnees are counting on contributions from eight newcomers in 2013. Souza explained that with 12 of the 14 student-athletes on the roster being freshmen or sophomores, it was very important for everyone to get to know each other and work together. They know they could have a long period of success.
"Everyone was so friendly when I came in as a freshman, so I just wanted to treat all of our newcomers the same way," Souza said.
The newcomers have earned a nickname: "Little Freshies."
It is clear that all the newcomers will play big roles this season. They have already demonstrated their talents in the first two meets.
Freshmen Agnes Sjöström and Tova Magnusson placed third and fourth, respectively, in the opening meet of the season, the Baylor Bear Twilight Invitational. Sjöström was named the American Athletic Conference's Athlete of the Week for her performance.
In the second meet, the Gerald Richey Invitational hosted by the University of Texas-Arlington, sophomore transfer Melanie Stemper placed first with Souza finishing runner-up.
These three, along with the other freshmen in the group, have high hopes for major roles once the American Championships and regionals come on the schedule. But Souza said she and the rest of the team know it is a building process. Each day, they work on improving their times, and Casey sets the tone.
"Coach will do anything for any of us," Souza said. "She makes the effort and takes the initiative to ask everyone how they are doing and what's going on in our lives."
Souza said the coach's approach creates feelings of mutual respect. Casey's comments reinforced that theme.
"Shanoah is a naturally gifted athlete and capable of doing anything she sets her mind to," Casey said. "Shanoah is a great teammate and I love having her in our program."
Souza was born in Boulder, Colo., and grew up in Encinitas, Calif. While she will never forget her roots, she is making a home at SMU.