Men’s and women’s cross country persevere

The Taylor Women's Cross Country team poses with its awards after placing third at Nationals

Clay Sidenbender | Echo

Taylor cross country overcame health issues and made history at the NAIA National Championships. Women’s cross country (Maddawgs) took third place and the men (Jarheads) finished 16th place at nationals.

Maddawgs finished at highest place in program history and eight points shy of a win. The Jarheads placed inside the top 20 for the fifth straight year.

“We talk about, you know, how can we bring glory to God through our sport and I think there’s a variety of ways you can do this,” Quinn White, the women’s cross country head coach, said. “But this (achievement) is an opening right now and He’s the one who got us through, so we have to make sure that’s very clear.”

A Maddawg runner ended up in the hospital for several hours over a health concern. The women’s team spent the remaining hours before the meet praying and refocusing on Christ.

White declined to reveal what the health issue was and the identity of the individual. He said the individual recovered and ran in the meet. However, the team faced high emotions going into race day.

“My biggest mindset was now not, ‘How are we going to do at the meet?’, but, ‘Is this individual going to be okay?’” White said. “And, ‘Will the other girls be . . . given a clear mind in refocusing?’ And if they couldn’t, I understood.”

Other teams at the NAIA National Championships suffered in performance because of health. Wayland Baptist University (WBU) in Texas held the NAIA number one spot until the last week. When their top runners went down, WBU was upset by 10th-ranked Oklahoma City University.

WBU fell to 10th in the NAIA and placed ninth in the NAIA National Championships.

“With the amount of talent we have on this team, it’s disappointing,” Brian Whitlock, WBU men’s and women’s head coach said on the WBU athletics website.

The Maddawgs faced a similar issue, but responded differently. In response, the Maddawgs broke the fastest team time in program history at 90:29. White could not have been more thankful for his team’s performance.

Both teams did not expect the course to be so fast. Four of the seven runners broke personal best times, including sophomore Sarah Harden. She set a new program record for the fastest individual time at 17:46.

“Everyone started a little bit slower I think,” senior Alex Berends, Maddawg runner, said. “So, our team intentionally got out fast. I was pretty close to the front for the first mile, which I wasn’t expecting.”

The five runners on the men’s team shaved off their best times too. Sophomore Josh Roth,  Jarheads runner, ran a personal record and Taylor individual season record at 25:18.

Senior Landry Long continued his time-shaving streak, cutting 55 seconds to make another personal record. Lance Vanderberg, Taylor men’s cross country head coach, pointed out Long’s maturation this season.

“As a team we didn’t have a great day at conference,” senior Ben Byrd,  Jarhead runner said. “So, it was good to be able to bounce back and feel like we had a good day at nationals and ending on a good note.”

Byrd and junior Jarhead runner Hunter Smith felt their own performances could have been better. Vanderberg did not put any blame on anyone and praised his team’s performance.

Vanderberg said that the team gave its all even though not everyone ran the perfect race.

“There’s nothing to be overly upset about because if people didn’t have the race that they want, then we have very clear reasons why.”

The only obstacle the men’s team faced this season was their health. If the team was healthier, Vanderberg said the Jarheads would have been better. At the end of the day, they did the best they could.

Five Jarhead seniors and eight Maddawg seniors finished their last collegiate meet. A new day is coming for the women’s team, but the men retain 19 runners. The cross country athletes will be back in January for the indoor track season.