As Northwest cross country coach Nick Gibson sat in the middle of a crowded room at the Northwest Athletics Media Luncheon Sept. 24, he said that the cross country team wanted to compete like the football and basketball teams.
The runners are here, Gibson said, to work and try and win a national championship of their own in their respective sport. The first step towards that goal is at the MIAA Championships Oct. 26 in Joplin, Missouri.
Despite what will be a 21-day absence in action between the last time the men and women competed at the Chile Pepper Festival Oct. 5 and the MIAA Championships, Gibson expects there to be a little-to-no dropoff in performance.
“I think a lot of our preparation is how our workouts have been set up towards the end of the year,” Gibson said. “We’re getting them ready to run the fastest that they’ve ever run. We don’t really have to get their minds set in the right place because everybody gets geared up for the championship part of the season. It’s more or less keeping them under control as we get into harder workouts and making sure that they don’t overdo it.”
Despite mild success last year, followed by a rather successful season so far in this campaign, the last few years have served as outliers for the program.
The men, in particular, are in the midst of a 47-year conference championship drought, a dry spell that dates back to 1972. Big things are coming for the men when they have the chance to prove it in front of the rest of the conference, Gibson said.
“I think they’re going to run even faster,” Gibson said. “Karim (Achengli) hasn’t run his best, and now he’s finally healthy, so I think that he’s going to run even better. … I think as a whole, across the board, everybody is going to run personal records. That’s what we’ve essentially done every meet so far.”
Standing in between the No. 12 men and the first step in the path of winning a national championship is No. 6 Missouri Southern.
“It’s more or less that they’re the hunted and we’re the hunters,” Gibson said. “We’ve got nothing holding us back. … For us, it’s more of putting pressure on them and making them collapse.”
The women, collectively, aren’t expected to do as well as the men’s team. The underestimation could serve as an edge-factor that the women could use, Gibson said.
“We just have to make sure that we have five girls as close together as possible, same thing for the men’s team,” sophomore Keely Danielsen said. “Just making sure that it’s a cohesive group that is all towards the front of the race.”
The women know it’s a year that has come with growing pains, Danielsen said. But having the group of women that the team has will be a foundation that can be improved on for the future seasons to come.
The women, who are in a drought themselves, find their last win at conference in 1997. That marked the end of a three-year span where the women won as many titles in as many chances.
Looking across the team and seeing the success that the men possibly have ahead of them is encouraging, Danielsen said. It provides a sense of hope that the women can soon reach the accomplishments that the men are reaching this season. Danielsen was left with few, but exclamatory, words on how it would be if the men were able to pull off the upset at the meet.
“That’d be dope as hell,” Danielsen said.
With nothing to lose, a historic men’s team and three weeks of rest, Gibson believes that the teams will be ready to go come the time to compete.
“You always have something to prove. I mean, until we actually win something, there’s always going to be something to prove. … I think we’re still under-ranked from my own personal opinion of where we should be. This is definitely a step in the right direction but we’re hoping to continue and maybe next year win a national title. You never know. The goal is to try and get better every year and eventually, hopefully, it’ll happen.”