Prior to the Northwest cross country’s NCAA Division II Central Region Championship, coach Nick Gibson said his team wanted to compete with two of the top programs in the nation, No. 6 ranked Missouri Southern and No. 7 ranked Augustana, and earn a top-three finish in order to advance to the National Championship in Sacramento, California.
Junior Jhordan Ccope and the Northwest men’s cross country team accomplished all of the above Nov. 9 in Joplin, Missouri, while the women’s season came to an end.
Ccope led the Bearcats with a runner-up finish and broke the program record in the 10,000-meter race. Ccope finished with a time of 29 minutes, 38 seconds and 1 millisecond, 23.6 seconds behind the region’s champion, Missouri Southern’s Gidieon Kimutai. That mark made Ccope the first runner in Northwest history run that long of a course in less than 30 minutes.
The Bearcats finished runner-up with a score of 64, the eventual champion was Missouri Southern with a collective score of 52. The top three finish earned Northwest a spot in the National Championship in Sacramento Nov. 23.
Behind Ccope was junior Augostine Lisoreng and senior Karim Achengli. Lisoreng finished sixth individually with a time of 30:25.9, Achengli placed ninth with a time of 30:37.0. Lisoreng’s finish became the third-fastest finish in Northwest history. Collectively, the trio now holds the three fastest finishes in Northwest cross country history for a 10,000-meter race.
The men were rounded out by Mike Lagat, who placed 18th with a time of 31:20.6,and Jake Norris who finished 29th with a time of 31:45.3. Norris and Lagat posted good enough scores to earn Northwest the second place finish, 12 points ahead of No. 7 Augustana.
“It was really awesome to beat (Augustana) them,” Gibson said. “Augustana has historically been one of the best teams in the region.Taking them down was a huge step for our program. For us to do that, it gives us some extra confidence going into the National meet.”
The women’s season came to an end at the same place the men earned their bid to Nationals. Caroline Ross scored a 38th place finish in the 6,000-meter race, earning a time of 22:42.39 to lead the Bearcats to a collective 26th place finish out of 32 teams.
The Bearcats tallied a score of 690, 28 points behind 25th place Bemidji State. Augustana won the Central Region on the women’s side with a score of 40 and the University of Mary earned runner-up.
“Caroline went out well, and she ran really well, and the other girls, I think, went out harder than they expected,” Gibson said. “They fell back a little bit, but they still ran strong and ran well. It just wasn’t the end goal we were hoping for.”
On the women’s side, the Bearcats are hoping to return all runners next season. Junior Shayleigh James is deciding whether she will run next season or focus on her academic endeavors. James went into the Central Regional Championship knowing it could have been her last race.
“I just wanted to know I didn’t hold anything back, so that was my biggest thing,” James said. “Just be the best competitor I could be and pick off as many girls as I could throughout the race.”
James, the third Bearcat to complete the race, finished in 175th with a time of 25:18.4. Keely Danielson finished in 102nd place with a time of 23:50.88.
It was one of the women's best races this season, James said, and they owe their performance to the mindset they had ahead of the race.
“There was nothing on our shoulders,” James said. “It was kind of a race where we could just get after it and do what we can.”
The youth of the team may pay a dividend for the Bearcats in the upcoming years. Sophomores Danielson and Ross led the team all season. Gibson believes the experience and leadership in the women will equate to a promising future, similar to the men’s current success.
“We’re still building on the future. The guys were 17th in the Region last year and they were second this year,” Gibson said. “For the girls, it’s all about learning and getting better for the next year. They are gonna be able to mentor. They are gonna be able to help, and that’s why our program is gonna take huge leaps next year like the guys did.”