Omaha, Nebraska, heard Taylor cross-country roar on Saturday, Oct. 21.
Taylor’s cross-country teams competed in the Blazing Tiger NAIA Classic against 23 teams.
Taylor women’s cross country team finished third at the meet behind College of Idaho, and Saint Mary (Kan.) ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively.
Sophomore Noel VanderWall led the Maddawgs in their pursuit with a time of 21:07.6 for third overall and was named Crossroads League Runner of the Week for her accomplishments in the race.
Her 6K time gave her a program record where she averaged around 5 minutes and 40 seconds per mile. This time beat the previous program record set by senior Mollie Gamble earlier this year by over a minute.
Following her in the top 15 were teammates Gamble in ninth with a time of 21:47.20 and Ahna Neideck in 14th coming in at 22:12.60. Lynae Ackley and Kaitlin Burden were next for the Maddawgs, placing in the top 30 with times of 22:29.80, and 22:39.10, respectively.
The men’s team finished in an outstanding fourth place ahead of several ranked NAIA teams including Oklahoma City, Southern Oregon and Kansas Wesleyan. The Trojans have since moved up in ranking to No. 12.
Outstanding performances on the men’s side included freshman Nathan Burns’s 24:36.0 and sophomore Ryan Hanak’s 24:50.5 in the 8K. Six of the Jarheads finished in the top 40 of 284 runners, and 10 posted personal bests on the day.
Burns’s time was the sixth-fastest in Taylor cross country history and a personal best for the season followed by Hanak’s time, which was the 11th-fastest in program history and broke his personal best by almost one minute.
VanderWall expressed the importance of being aware in her races. Because “mindful” is the word that the team chose to focus on this season, VanderWall conveyed how this influences her when she is running.
“You have to stay focused the whole time and have that grittiness that stays consistent the whole way,” VanderWall said. “Because that’s when you’re going to improve and that’s when you’re going to see the best results: When you can be focused for the 20 to 22 minutes that you’re out there.”
Hanak said being mindful to him looks like visualizing the race before him. He said that looking at the course map and picturing the terrain has helped him overcome obstacles.
“Just knowing where you can make moves so that when you’re in a race, and you’re tired, but (you’re) thinking from just practicing, ‘There’s a hill coming up; I can use it,’ and when there’s a downhill, and I'm tired, but you can get your legs going again and try to make up a little bit more ground,” Hanak said.
Hanak also mentioned that during races and practices, the team supports and encourages through mindfulness of one another.
“We’re all here for one reason: We want to get better and we want to get faster,” he said. “And also we were given this gift from Christ, so just growing together in the faith has…played a big part.”
VanderWall also stated times in races when teammates would speak up to encourage one another and remind each other to pray for their teammates while running.
She believes that the team constantly hones in on their goal of staying committed to their sport and each other while on the course.
“This season has not been perfect, which no season is going to be perfect, but I think we’ve put in a lot of work and a lot of effort, and have really been focused on being gritty throughout the entire season,” she said. “And being mindful in that we are doing it for the Lord and not for our own purposes or gain.”
She talked about shifting her focus from pain or an intense workout to seeing how the Lord has gifted her in her sport.
She was encouraged by the fact that the Lord is with her in her running.
“Our coach really encourages us to see the Lord and see the Holy Spirit running beside us when things get hard,” she said. “Something I’ve told myself a lot is that when I’m weak, he is strong. So, (I’m) drawing my strength from him and not myself.”
VanderWall also added that head coach Quinn White has encouraged the runners in many ways this season on and off the course. She expressed her great appreciation for his care of the team.
“He keeps our focus on the right things,” VanderWall said. “He does so much for us, and just the love and the care that he shows really shows the love of Christ in a lot of really cool ways. And just points us towards (Jesus) and running for him.”
Looking forward, Hanak said he is excited for the Crossroads League Championships.
“We’ve been getting better and better,” he said. “Saturday was our best race, so it’s good to know what shape we are in and what we can do going into conference.”
The Jarheads and the Maddawgs will both be competing in the Crossroads League championships Friday, Nov. 3, at the TU Cross Country Farm.