XC: Westmont finishes strong at NAIA Nationals

(Charlotte, N.C) In the NAIA Cross Country National Championships held in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Westmont Women’s and Men’s Cross Country Teams placed tenth and eighteenth respectively out of 36 men’s and women’s teams. Each team placed higher than the final Top-25 Coaches Poll ranking they held prior to the race – the men jumped from 26 to 18 and the women from 13 to 10.

“We wanted to run as well at nationals as we did at conference and today they actually ran better than they did at conference,” explained head coach Russel Smelley. “We had our best team spreads of the year – under one minute for both teams – and that gave them a good spread towards finishing well. This season has been a process of getting better and working towards running up to their potential and I think today they ran up to their potential which feels really good.”

A team spread is the time difference between the first and fifth runners on a single team. The score of each of the top five runners, out of the seven women and men that run for each team, is combined to create the team total. Thus, a great team spread (a low time) is crucial for overall team success.

In the men’s 8,000 meter race, Westmont had a spread of 51 seconds with senior Evan Kramer finishing first for the Warriors at 25:52 and sophomore Jacob Grant finishing fifth at 26:43. Finishing second, third, and fourth respectively were sophomore Thomas Hamlin (26:08), freshman Blake Fonda (26:36), and senior Nate Evans (26:36).

In the women’s 5,000 meter race, Westmont had a spread of 54 seconds with senior Jessica Meyers finishing first for the Warriors at 18:27 and senior Sierra Wallen finishing fifth at 19:21 seconds. Finishing second, third, and fourth respectively were junior Kelly Collins (18:38), senior Alexandria Adams (19: 01), and junior Olivia Wood (19:03).

Overall, the Golden State Athletic Conference faired extremely well in today’s race. For the men, three teams placed in the top 25: The Master’s College finished ninth, Westmont finished 18th, and Biola finished 25th; for the women three teams placed in the top ten: Biola finished third, The Master’s finished seventh, and Westmont finished tenth.

Senior Sierra Wallen shared her thoughts on the team’s performance in today’s race. “I think our team ran our best race as a team in the entire season, which is an excellent way to finish,” reflected Wallen. “This is a team sport and you have ups and downs throughout the season and then to finally have everything click into place is really great. Being in the top ten is awesome.”

Additionally, Senior Evan Kramer reflected on his team’s performance. “I think our team did really well. Our goal was to get in the top 15 and we ended up at 18 – so very close to our goal and a great performance coming off of the GSAC conference race. In the conference race we lost to Biola but we finished in front of them today which felt great.”

Individually in the men’s race, out of 326 runners, the top two finishers for the Warriors were Kramer (62nd) and Hamlin (84th).

Coach Smelley reflected on Kramer and Hamlin’s performances. “Evan has made the advance to being a national level runner this year and today was an outstanding performance for him. Tom ran a fantastic race and kept closing in during the whole second half. He probably had the race of the day.”

Kramer described his experience in the race. “For the first 800 meters I felt like I was sprinting all out – it felt like the end of a track race, only I had to keep going. Throughout the race, you are constantly surrounded by other runners and there is always someone coming up on you. It felt very different from any other race I have been in. The final mile went by really fast because it was relatively flat and around a pond. The last 800 was really exciting – there were some guys around me and we were all making different moves and it was push and tug until the very end.”

The race began with all 326 runners standing side by side in a 75 meter wide grass field. The runners had about 125 meters to position themselves into more of a line formation before the grass field funneled into a 15 meter dirt path.

“To describe the start in a word – chaos,” explained Hamlin. “The gun goes off and from that point you are just trying to get into the position where you know you want to be and not have anyone get in the way of that.”

Hamlin continued to describe the race. “Every aspect of the race is very much mentally involved. From the start you must have a little bit of restraint, where in miles three, four, and five you have to ask yourself ‘how much do I have and how much am I going to give’ – and today we really gave it all we had.

“In the last 800 meters I kept thinking, ‘I can get one more guy’, and I ended up gaining on someone and passing them near the finish line.”

This resilience in the final stretch of the race earned Hamlin a season personal record.

Individually in the women’s race, out of 321 runners, the top two finishers for the Warriors were Meyers (39th) and Collins (54th).

Smelley commented on their performances and said, “Jessica ran her best time of the season and so she looked very strong and Kelly ran her best time of the season as well. They did a great job in a very fast race.”

Meyers and Collins each shared their experience in the race.

“The race started really fast,” began Meyers. “A minute into the race 340 people want to be in the same spot on the course. So just trying to get out there fast in front of the crowd is very important. The middle was kind of a blur – I could feel myself slowing down and then I saw coach Smelley. He said, ‘Jess you will be fine, just make it up this hill – you are almost done.’ That kind of refocused me even though I was feeling terrible. Towards the end of the last mile, after going down a hill into the final stretch I was giving it everything I had – I think I passed seven people in the last 100 meters.”

Collins reflected, “This is three times the size of any other race we have been in all season and so I was just trying to pass as many people as possible. With a mile left, I realized that I had six minutes left of my entire season and that this is such a great opportunity, so I might as well go as hard as I can and leave it all out on the course – so I pushed myself as hard as I could for those final minutes.”

This is the women’s seventh top-ten finish in the program’s history, (including the past two years) and is the men’s 14th top-20 finish as well as their first return to nationals