Jackson, MS – The Eagles of Alice Lloyd College traveled south for the NCCAA Division II National Cross Country Championship meet held in Jackson, Mississippi.
The first morning the squad was given the opportunity to take part in the NCCAA‘s annual community service project. This year’s activity was to assist in feeding the homeless in Jackson, Mississippi. Junior John Driskill spoke about the project, “We were tasked with packing boxes with many different types of non-perishable foods. We worked alongside Emmanuel College and some local convicts that were serving for community service. A definite highlight of the project is when Coach Brandon Arnold got in a box taping competition with one of the convicts. We all got really hyped and cheered them on while packing, but in the end, Coach didn’t stand a chance against the veteran box taper! It was an honor to take part in a league that goes out of its way to help the less fortunate, and I think we definitely brightened the day of those convicts that were serving their time by laughing and working with them.”
That night, the team attended the annual NCCAA Cross Country Banquet, hosted by the NCCAA. Driskill spoke highly of the event, “We had the honor of being invited to the athletics banquet the night before the championship race. We were encouraged by the speaker, who talked about both his experience in athletics as well as his faith, and we were able to make friends with some of the other runners within our association. They closed out the night by singing together as a collection, and it was amazing sitting back and listening to all the combined voices of the athletes being lifted up in unison”. Additionally, both Driskill, as well as junior Lady Eagle runner Hayley Short, were recognized as NCCAA Scholar-Athletes during the banquet.
The Eagles arrived at the race site the following morning. The location was an entirely grass-covered course lined with rolling hills. The participants were greeted by the sun with temperatures in the 60’s, unlike last year’s meet in New York where the temperatures were in the upper 30’s with snow. Nerves were high when they arrived, but everything settled once the day began. The women’s 5K race started at 10:00 am, and the men’s 8K race followed at 11:00 am.
In the Women’s Division II meet, freshman Kacey Troutt picked the perfect time to smash her personal best as she broke the tape in an impressive 21:44. This topped her previous best by 55 seconds. Troutt has made incredible strides over the year and definitely has shown she can be a legitimate threat to crack the top ten next season. Her time placed her 19th in the 5k. Coming in behind Troutt was teammate Brittney Buttrey who crossed the line in 22:56 to finish 25th overall. Although Buttery’s time was 22 seconds off her pace from last year, the fleet-footed runner had suffered a major ankle sprain the week before Nationals that prevented her from training. When asked how she felt about the race, the sophomore said, “It was a very fast course and I was so excited to run it. Even though I was not able to perform at my best, I was able to push through because of the encouragement from my fellow runners.” She added, “Of all the athletes I have met through sports, cross country runners are the nicest and most inviting competitors I have ever met!” It was a testimony to her grit and toughness that she placed as high as she did and she has a serious opportunity to earn a top-ten finish next season as well if she remains healthy.
Next up was the Men’s Division II race. Based on their strong season showing, the entire squad qualified for this important meet. Coming in first on the Eagles team was freshman Ryan Morris who finished 19th overall with a new personal record of 30:24. This annihilated and lowered his previous best time by 1:01. If Morris can take an additional minute off his time over the next year, he will be a serious top 10 threat.
Finishing second was fellow freshman Dustin Blair, who also ran a season-best time of 31:33. His previous record was lowered by a whopping 1:08 and his finish was good for 28th place. When asked about his record run, Blair said, “It was a fast course with incredibly fast competition to motivate us. It was a great environment to run in. To top it off, all of this happened with God and my teammates by my side!”
Driskill was the third Eagle to cross the line coming in 36th place with a new personal best of 32:11. This was 35 seconds better than his finish at last year’s nationals. When asked what helped him improve his time, Driskill stated, “Our strategy was to pace our first mile as a pack, and we nearly cleared it at a 5:30 pace. About 2 miles into the race we split up a little, but we kept running strong. This led to our top times for the year.”
Next for the Eagles was freshman Noah Stevenson who placed 40th with a solid time of 33:01. Stevenson showed consistent improvement this year himself and has a solid future ahead of him. Close behind Stevenson in 44th and 45th place were freshman Nick Galloway and sophomore Zach Templeton. The duo crossed the line in nearly identical times of 35:04 and 35:05. Unfortunately, Galloway ran with a painful foot injury which hampered his time. The youngster, who entering the meet possessed the season’s fastest time of 31:01, had a legitimate shot at breaking 30 minutes on the fast course. Never-the-less, he refused to sit and was a major motivator to his teammates. Templeton also set a personal best with his time as he surpassed it by 39 seconds. Overall, as a squad, this finish was good enough for fifth place.
Coach Arnold stated after the race and season came to an end, “To say that this year has been a good one is an understatement. Seeing the steady improvement from our first practice to nationals has been phenomenal. Our veterans were excellent leaders and these kids are as close as brothers and sisters. Watching a young and inexperienced team succeed on the national stage really goes to show what they’re capable of doing. This club has a lot of success ahead of them and they are hungry to have the opportunity to return next year and improve their placements!”
The Alice Lloyd Cross Country program is definitely a program on the rise. The roster will remain the same going into next year as they won’t graduate any runners. Coach Arnold also plans to bring in a strong recruiting class to help build on the success. The Eagles are taking a short break from running to recover, and then they will start work on the road to the 2017 Nationals!