Going into the MIAA Championships Oct. 26 in Joplin, Missouri, Northwest men’s cross country was looking to end a 47-year drought from being atop the conference. The women were looking to end a season-long drought of collective success.
The men were projected to finish fifth in the MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll. To the voters’ surprise, the men entered the conference meet as the No. 12 team in the country and No. 2 in the MIAA behind nationally-ranked No. 6 Missouri Southern.
The men came short of the ultimate goal of ending the drought, but walked away from the weekend with having proved a point to the rest of the conference.
“I mean, it was a great step in the right direction,” coach Nick Gibson said. “Being 10th last year and being second this year, knowing that if we would’ve put everything together on the day, we would’ve had a shot to win.”
Southern’s Gidieon Kimutai came in first of the 8,000-meter race with a time of 23 minutes and 37 seconds. Behind the sophomore trailed three Bearcats. Northwest was led by junior Jhordan Ccope with a time of 23:59.5. Behind Ccope were senior Karim Achengli and junior Augostine Lisoreng in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
The next Northwest men’s runner to finish the race came a few minutes later when sophomore Jake Norris placed 19th with a time of 25:19.6. The lopsided performance from the top to the bottom of the men’s team put the Bearcats 21 points behind Missouri Southern, the eventual champions.
“We weren’t too far off. Missouri Southern is a good team; they’re ranked No. 6 for a reason,’ Gibson said. “They have the top guy who is the favorite to win nationals too. So they have a really good team, just, for us, it’s a good mark for us to know where we are going into these championship meets where we feel like we’re a better team anyways because we have some really good guys up front.”
The problem for Northwest, of course, wasn’t trying to get runners among the top ranks of the conference. Instead, it was trying to get the whole team among the top ranks of the conference.
“It’s really nice knowing that we have three probable All-Americans in (Ccope, Achengli and Lisoreng),” Gibson said. “For us, we’re struggling with the depth a little bit on the men’s side. We have five guys who are really solid, but we just don’t have those guys right behind them that if someone were to fall off, they’d be able to pick them up. That’s where Missouri Southern had the edge.”
For the women, the meet didn’t go as hoped, Gibson said.
The women placed in 11th, which slated them at second-to-last in the MIAA. Sophomore Caroline Ross led the women in the 6,000-meter race with a time of 22:50.5, good enough for 22nd individually.
Despite the finish towards the bottom, Gibson said, the women still have a better foundation than the men did before this year. Improvement on the women’s side isn’t imminent, but it’s getting there.
“Just keep working and moving forward. We had our top three girls run personal records so you can’t really complain about that,” Gibson said. “Once again, we just don’t have the depth, so it’s just trying to bring in more recruits and have more girls. … We’re just doing our best and trying to improve so that next year they’re at where the guys are this year.”
Both the men and women will be two weeks removed from the MIAA Championships when they make their return to Joplin, Missouri. They’ll have a chance to compete in the NCAA Division II Central Region Championships Nov. 9.
Although hoisting a program-best No. 11 ranking for the men, there will be plenty to prove come the time to showcase it, Gibson said.
“I still think that we’re under-ranked. We’ve moved up a little bit, but it’s not like still as much as I think we’ll be,” Gibson said. “I went back and did my research, and if you have three guys that are All-Americans, where does that put you as a team? It’s hard to find a team that doesn’t have three that is outside the top 10. So that’s why I think we’re a top 10 team, but obviously, rankings don’t really matter. It’s about who shows up on the day, and that’s what the final results say.”