Season Recap: XC plant Beacon Banner, bring Home the Goods
The Beacon Bolt is a publication of the student body of Northwest Christian University. The Cross Country teams closed out the fall season for Beacon athletics in memorable fashion on November 21st, with the men turning in an impressive 16th place performance in their NAIA National debut, and the women delivering NCU it’s first national title banner in school history. It was a fitting end for two teams that have been and are still ascending to heights never before reached by our school in the realm of sports.
A quick recap:
While not initially ranked, the men’s team received votes in the NAIA top 25 preseason poll for the second time ever and were picked to finish fifth in conference in CCC preseason voting.
It was no secret that the women would be a force this year, as they were ranked first in the NAIA during preseason, the first time an NCU athletic team had ever been at the top of a national poll.
In the first meet of the season the men showed a glimpse of the good things to come by taking first place in NCU Invite and toppling no. 15 OIT in the process. This helped propel the men to the number 20 spot nationally after another strong performance earned them a second place finish at the conference preview meet. The rest of the season could be summed up by the phrase from a well known children’s story: “Slow and steady often wins the race”, as the men ran with the pace of the hare and the persistence of the tortoise. At the Willamette Invitational, sophomore Garrett Kraal missed out on the school record by a single second. The record, and NCU’s first sub 25 minute time in the standard 8k distance became his in the next meet, the Inland Empire Classic, on a day that also saw Eli Shelby set the record for fastest time by a freshman.
The women’s season was one long display of dominance, in which they cruised to seemingly easy win after easy win, and never dropped lower than second place in the national rankings. Between the two of them, juniors Alyssa Harmon and Sierra Brown broke the previous individual school record set in 2011 a combined six times, and are currently co-owners of NCU’s first sub 17 minute race in the 5k distance.
The conference meet was a showcase of Beacon talent. Garrett Kraal finished higher than any runner previously by taking third place, which helped the team achieve its highest finish in the meet as well, also third place, enough to earn them a spot in the National Meet.
It was a walk in the park for the women. The Beacons’ top runners took first, second, third, fifth and sixth, and comprised nearly half of the All-Conference team.
Saving their best for last, the men shined brightest on the big stage in North Carolina. Going into the race ranked 23rd in the country, the debutants gave an inspiring performance, passing up seven teams to take 16th place. The women weren’t shy either, running arguably their most authoritative race of the year, and were rewarded with the first national championship in school history. NCU won convincingly, almost easily, even without the aid of injured All-Conference runner Shea Vallaire, who almost certainly would have joined Harmon, Brown, Michelle Fletcher, and Rosa Schmidt on the All-American list had she been able to compete. The Beacons won by a convincing 20 points despite missing one of their key parts, which shows how far ahead of the competition the women’s program really is.
It was a storybook season for sure. Those that managed to make it to one of the meets throughout the season to see them compete can attest to how thrilling it is to watch our runners perform. Both squads have spearheaded a conquest that has taken the Beacon name into territory our athletics have never before stood, and there is no indication that they will be changing their upward trajectory anytime soon. The men will lose only three seniors in Taylor Kraal, Alek Angeli, and Hunter Tyler, while the women will be returning their entire field. No doubt NAIA Coach of the Year Heike McNeil still thinks her teams can achieve more, and will continue pushing them to reach their full potential.
The Cross Country teams have more than earned the heartfelt congratulations they have received since returning home from North Carolina, as well as the already growing anticipation for what they will accomplish next year.