Trojan sports have been dominating across the board this season. Women's soccer entered the conference semifinals. Volleyball took the Crossroads League and is hunting for a national title. Men’s and women’s golf finished in the top 12 in the nation. Cross country now joins the corps of Trojan victors this season.
Taylor cross country finished the regular season strong at the Crossroads League (CL) Tournament this past weekend. Both the men’s and women’s teams will head to the NAIA National Championships in Tallahassee, Florida on Nov. 18th.
The women’s team completed their perfect season (98-0) and end the year ranked No. 1 in the NAIA. Abbey Brennan, a fifth-year senior, finished with the second-best overall time at the CL tournament and was joined by six other Taylor runners who filled out more than half of the top 12 at the tournament.
Taylor also had the lowest spread between their first and fifth runner at just over 30 seconds — a full 36 seconds faster than second-place Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). The victory gave the Trojans their tenth straight conference championship to continue their reign of the throne of Crossroads League cross country.
As the women’s team prepares for the national tournament, they are led by Brennan, junior Ahna VanderWall and freshman Noel VanderWall. The three runners have finished in the top ten of every meet Taylor has entered this season. Seven different members of the team were also crowned with All-Crossroads League honors, only adding to Taylor’s impressive resume.
As the women prepare for the trek to Florida, Brennan says the team doesn’t feel the pressure of having a target on their back as the team to beat.
“We’re feeling really good … our coach (head coach Quinn White) definitely encourages us to not put … extra pressure on ourselves or be nervous or worried, but just to go run how we have been running and how we know how to run,” Brennan said.
The men’s team (68-35) isn’t slacking on their preparations for Nationals either. They followed up a strong finish at the Great Lakes Challenge in October with a third-place finish at the CL Tournament. Ryan Hanak, a freshman, paced Taylor at the tournament finishing 13th overall, helping to lead the Trojans to a strong third-place finish just behind IWU and Huntington University.
The team’s performance led to three Trojans (senior Josh Harden, freshman Luke Harber, and Hanak) being named All-Crossroads League. Taylor also closes out the regular season at No. 14 in the season-ending poll — their highest ranking of the year.
“The plan for us was for us to kind of go out there and do what we’ve been doing … we were just trying to qualify for Nationals … nothing too special,” Hanak said.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will be pushing their hardest on the 18th — the men’s team will be seeking to earn their second title in three years, while the women’s team will be looking for their first national title in program history. Both sides have the team chemistry and the drive to push themselves to be the best in the nation.
“The atmosphere has been so great this year … we really believe in ourselves and really want to go out and do our best … we’ve been doing great … a lot of encouragement,” said Brennan.
Hanak said, “Coach (White) puts a lot of emphasis on … running together, so we’ll talk … and push each other … you can work together and push to the end.”
Taylor cross country has the potential to bring home some hardware right before the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, and only Tallahassee, Florida knows who will stand as the champions of the NAIA.