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Diaz and Hammer lead Eagles to strong Heartland Championship showing

Photo by: Henoc Kivuye


Junior Roberto Diaz and sophomore Bryant Keirns claimed first and second, respectively, in the Heartland Conference Men’s Cross-Country Championship last Saturday. Freshman Layne Hammer once again led the Lady Eagles, finishing 18th.

“Overall, it was probably one of the nicer races we’ve had all year,” Head Coach for Men’s Cross-Country Wade Miller said.

Throughout the season – even up until the championship last Saturday – the men’s cross-country team found itself plagued with injuries and other health issues.

Sophomore Timothy Zuercher had to drop out of the Bison Invitational in the weeks leading up to the championship due to severe allergies.

“I’ve been having some real bad allergy problems where my lungs pretty much give out,” Zuercher said. “I’ve been working through that. It’s been rough; it all depends on the pollen count I guess.”

The past few races for both the men and women’s cross-country teams have had less than desirable weather conditions. Rain dogged the Eagles’ performance, but could not bog them down.

Before the race, Diaz did not anticipate the weather affecting their performance. If anything, he said, the weather in Dallas would prove beneficial.

“It’s going to be a flat course on the soccer fields there – it might be our fastest race of the season,” Diaz said. “If weather conditions are good, we’ll be fine. I think we trained in pretty rough weather one week when we had to do 1,000’s, and they were pretty much the conditions like at the Chile Pepper – muddy and tough – and we had an excellent workout.”

Hammer concurred, noting that the previous poor conditions in races, while unfortunate, simply prepared the team for the worst.

“I think it’s kind of just prepared us for anything, really,” Hammer said. “I mean, I’m not worried about it being really rainy, because I’ve already dealt with that. Also, this course is all going to be on grass, so it won’t be muddy; it won’t be anything we can’t handle.”

On the men’s side, Diaz captured first with a time of 25:15.7 and Keirns came in on his heels with a 25:19.7 finish. Junior Brennym Kaelin followed close behind in 25:55.7, while the men’s next four runners all crossed the line within a minute of each other.

Zuercher claimed 23rd in 26:50.8 despite his respiratory problems, sophomore Trent Stephens took 28th with a time of 27:04, freshman Evan Durrill finished 34th in 27:23.7, and senior Nick Stoots finished 39th in 27:48.8. Freshman Nathan Giles brought up the rear for the Eagles, taking 75th in 30:53.7.

The men’s performance, according to Zuercher, came from a persistent mentality emphasized by Miller.

“What Coach [Miller] likes to say is he wants to see us be hard nosed,” Zuercher said. “I think that definitely contributes to it.”

Hammer blazed the trail for the women’s squad, taking 18th in 22:46.5. Freshmen Sarah Cobb and Maci Rich finished within nearly 10 seconds of each other, finishing in 41st (23:42) and 48th (23:58.7), respectively. Fellow freshman Katie Jones took 53rd in 24:11.3, sophomore Maria Sargent finished 58th in 24:33.3, and junior Tavia Hoheisel rounded out the Lady Eagles squad with a 73rd-place finish in 26:25.9.

Sophomore Tara Lewis, one of the Lady Eagles’ top runners, is out due to injury.

Because of the difference in scheduling from high school to college and the demanding schedule this season, Miller plans on giving the team some time to recuperate before nationals Saturday Nov. 16.

“They’ve been working hard,” Miller said. “This week and next week we’ll be having a little bit more difficult training, and that last week they’ll freshen up a little bit and get their legs underneath them, and should be ready to run fast.”

The men’s team are the defending national champions, but according to Miller, don’t expect to receive any red carpet treatment.

“I think they’ve seen the competition that’s going to be there and they know that nothing’s going to be handed to them,” Miller said. “If we’re going to be in the mix, we’re going to have to run really well, and they know that. So we haven’t emphasized ‘Hey, we’re the champions, everything’s going to fall into place.’ But I think they’re going to be ready to roll.”


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