The Taylor cross-country teams dominated once again at the Crossroads League Championships on Nov. 3.
Still ranked No. 4 in the NAIA, the women’s team won their 11th straight Crossroads League championship, scoring a dominant 33 points. The men’s team finished in an outstanding second place in the league meet with 71 points.
Four Maddawgs were in the top six, with senior Mollie Gamble leading the charge at a time of 21:56.2, thus earning her second place out of 131 runners.
Gamble was followed by Noel VanderWall, who placed fourth with a time of 22:23.0 for the 6k, tailed closely by Audrey Brinkruff in fifth place with a time of 22:23.1. Ahna Neideck placed sixth overall with a time of 22:32.5.
Also in the top 20 for the Dawgs were sophomores Bekah Firestone (16th), Kaitlin Burden (19th) and junior Elayna Kitt (20th).
Head coach Quinn White, recently awarded the 2023 USTFCCCA Great Lakes Region Women’s Coach-of-the-Year Award, said past and present women’s cross country teams have come together in a collective effort for the 11 league meet wins.
“This current title was an accumulation of our past and our present,” White said. “We leaned on what the Dawgs before us have accomplished, yet we brought our current convictions. This team knows that they don’t have to be perfect. We focused on what we could control and tried to be the best we could be that day.”
Gamble said she felt a lot of peace when getting on the line in her penultimate race of the season, adding that team members calm their nerves by singing together and having White pray before the team races.
White has encouraged his runners to “race like you practice, practice like you race” throughout the season, Gamble said. This motto has been something the team has focused on when training and racing.
“We’ve worked harder this year on really making sure that that’s what we are doing,” she said. “And when we’re practicing and thinking about what the next race is gonna look like, and how we can focus on working through the painful times when we’re hurting, and pushing through because there’s lots of perseverance that comes with that.”
For the Jarheads, sophomore Ryan Hanak led the way, finishing seventh overall with a time of 25:24.7. He was followed by freshman Nathan Burns, eighth place, and sophomore Luke Harber, 15th out of 136. All three men placing in the top 15 earned All-Crossroads League honors.
Also in the top 25 for Taylor were sophomore Alex Ortiz (20th) and senior Ben Eiffert (21st).
Harber, running a 25:45.1, said that the team’s one-word motto – “mindful” – is a good reminder to stay present in the race at hand.
“During some points in those middle miles, it’s easy to kind of settle in and get comfortable,” Harber said. “But having our one-word be mindful kind of is that constant reminder that it should be uncomfortable, and you have to keep the edge on and don’t settle in.”
Part of that mindfulness is running with teammates and keeping each other accountable. He said it is hard to fade when you’re with a pack of runners that want you to be there
Harber feels like the team has been rated fairly so far in the NAIA polls, but the Trojans have barely scratched the surface of what they can do as a team. He said they are excited to do that at Nationals.
Because of their performance at the Crossroads League Championships, the Jarheads moved up to 10th in the final NAIA top 25 poll. White said the men’s team was ready to run the League meet.
“The men’s team had a chip on their shoulder,” White said. “They were not happy with a few meets this season, and they wanted to prove that they are a top 10 team in the NAIA.”
At this point in the season, with Nationals on the horizon, White said that he encourages both teams to run and live with a thankful heart.
“It’s wonderful that these runners are self-motivated,” White said. “They are physically and mentally mindful to endure pain, discomfort and focus every day. We encourage them to relax and win the mind games during these challenging times. One of our favorite ways is to support and lift them up. Right now, it's about staying sharp, staying the course and running with a thankful heart.”
Both teams will compete in the NAIA National Championships on Nov. 17 in Vancouver, Washington.