The women’s cross-country team placed third while the men placed eighth at the 2018 NCAA Division II Central Regional meet Saturday, Nov. 17 in Joplin.
The Gorilla Men accumulated a score of 223 points. Head Coach Russ Jewett said it is visible the progress the men’s team has made over this season.
“… This is the main one we aimed for in training and competing, so I am very proud of the guys,” Jewett said. “We finished higher than we did last year, so that shows progress from the program and we were not that far off fifth place, and sometimes in our regional the fifth-place team can make it to nationals. It did not happen this year, but I think we are getting close to where we have a chance to qualify to nationals in the future, so I am very encouraged. Everyone on the team had an outstanding race, I could not single a single person out because they all ran the best race of the year. …”
The women accumulated a total score of 122 points, and Jewett was proud of the team.
“On the ladies (team), I am very happy for them, proud of them,” Jewett said. “We had some physical challenges with our top two runners following the conference championship. We had to really scramble to get them ready to race again. So, I was proud of them, Jordan and Cassidy, for keeping it together … We did not get a good start in the race, so we were playing catch up the whole way and that was a big challenge. … (The) top three automatically qualify to nationals and we were tied for third on score, but with the tie breaker that is in place we won … by half a second on one match up. One of our girls was half a second ahead of the Oklahoma Baptist girls. It was as close as it could possibly be for the outer qualifying spot, but we got it and I was really pleased.”
Several runners from the women’s team stood out to Jewett during the meet.
“I think Cassidy Westhoff probably had as good a race as anybody in the women’s race,” he said. “She was our number two runner. And Piper has been strong all year, she was our number one runner, but Cassidy of course had some minor injury challenges, and to be able to withstand that and still be the high place number two runner, I was really proud of her. I think Ashton Henson deserves a lot of credit. She has been battling and trying to get past the injuries she had last spring and over the summer and she gets better every week. At one point in time in the race she was our lead runner. She had moved into a position where she was leading the other six girls on our team through the race and that is a first this year. So she really helped us that way (and) I think the other girl’s confidence to push hard when it really was tough in the middle of the race.”
The women’s team qualified for the NCAA II Championships meet, which will take place Saturday, Dec. 1 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“The national championship is the pinnacle, that is the big mission,” Jewett said. “The goal to qualify to it and represent (your team’s) university at the national level, so we are really excited about it. Now, having said that, we are third best team type and the third best team in our region and there are eight regions. There are a couple of regions that are tougher than us … so to be realistic, we would love to come home with hardware, but that is not realistic with our team and with the championship this year. So if we could place in the top 15 I would be ecstatic. It is just hard to judge what a good performance would be when you do not race against most of these teams anytime during the regular year, it is just hard to tell. I think we were 18th last year, but I would like for us to show progress as a team and I would like for us to be in the 15 if at all possible.”