Junior Shayleigh James (left) and sophomore Keely Danielsen (right) embrace Sept. 21 after racing in the Missouri Southern Stampede.

Two weeks removed from a runner-up finish at the MIAA Championships in Joplin, Missouri, Oct. 26, Northwest cross country will head back to Joplin for the NCAA Central Region Championships Nov. 9.

The men entered the MIAA Championships ranked as the No. 12 team in the country. Following the runner-up finish, the men jumped to No. 11 with their eyes set on chasing No. 6 Missouri Southern and No. 7 Augustana.

Northwest finished second behind the Lions at the Missouri Southern Stampede in September and the MIAA Championships. Augustana has been a perennial powerhouse, earning nine national top 12 finishes in the past decade and winning six of the past seven Regional Championships. Coach Nick Gibson is excited to see the Bearcats compete at the higher level.

“It’s gonna be fun to see where we stack up against them at a bigger meet where there are more teams and more individuals that help break up the team score a little bit more,” Gibson said.

Northwest is looking to battle with those top teams. At the MIAA Championships, the men individually took second, third and fourth, respectively, behind Missouri Southern’s Gidieon Kimutai.

Junior Jhordan Ccope finished runner-up, senior Karim Achengli took third, and junior Augostine Lisoreng earned fourth. The Bearcats earned 56 points and finished 44 points ahead of Central Missouri, who finished in third place.

Northwest will need another top-three finish in the Regional Championship in order to advance to the National Championship as a team. Ccope believes the Bearcats are ready for the challenge.

“We have been training hard last week and this week,” Ccope said. “We are ready for this meet. I am so excited.”

Personally, Ccope has not finished worse than sixth place in Northwest’s four competitions this season and is looking to continue that success in order to earn a trip to Sacramento, California, where Nationals will be hosted.

Earlier in the season, Achengli won the Bearcat Open and placed sixth at the Missouri Southern Stampede. Lisoreng has had similar success. The trio is looking to lead Northwest to its first Regional Championship since 1998.

Despite the consistent success, the Bearcats were underlooked to start the season. Northwest was projected fifth in the MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll. Gibson ignored the negative views and kept his athletes focused on the prize.

“We weren’t expected to do anything coming into this year,” Gibson said. “We set expectations and goals for ourselves, but for us, it’s just doing our job, trying to be in the top three and make it to the national meet, where we feel like we’re a much better team just with how we are set up as a team right now.”

Northwest feels good heading into the Regional Championship. The Bearcats continued training in their two-week break with the majority of their practices taking place in the colder elements that the midwest supplements them with. The grit of his runners, Gibson said, will give them an edge over the competition.

“In races like these, it is the most mentally tough that come out on top,” Gibson said. “This is something that they deserve because they have put in the work.”

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