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Eagles rest top runners, prepare for championship

Photo by: Henoc Kivuye


Junior Roberto Diaz has slogged through plenty of muddy courses over his college career, but conditions at the Arkansas Chile Pepper Festival proved that when it rains, it pours.

“It was awful,” Diaz said. “It was muddier than Joplin, Mo. last year. It was drenched last year, but I feel like it was at least more solid footing and more solid ground.”

Oklahoma Christian University’s men’s cross-country team entered a nearly complete squad at the Chile Pepper Festival before fall break, missing only freshman Kyle Broaddrick. Coming into the race off a series of fair-weather meets, sophomore Bryant Keirns had anticipated the rolling hills of the Cowboy Jamboree earlier that week would make the flat Chile Pepper Festival easier. The weather had other plans, as a heavy morning downpour changed portions of the normally fast course into long stretches of churned mud.

Diaz and Keirns led the Eagles to a 10th place finish in the 21-team field, finishing in 16th and 29th with times of 25:36.3 and 26:08.2, respectively. Freshman Evan Durrill took 62nd in 26:53.7 while sophomores Trent Stephens and Timothy Zuercher – running his first race in two weeks – finished 100th in 27:42.2 and 123rd in 28:06.7, closing the Eagles’ top five. Junior Brennym Kaelin and senior Nick Stoots brought up the rear for Oklahoma Christian’s finish, taking 133rd in 28:19.6 and 161st in 29:14.6.

The Lady Eagles struggled through the damp course as well, as freshman standout Layne Hammer claimed Oklahoma Christian’s only top-100 spot with a 49th place finish in 19:31.3. Overall, the Lady Eagles finished 19th in the 5,000-meter race.

Freshmen Maci Rich and Katie Jones finished mere seconds apart, taking 114th and 116th in 20:55.5 and 20:58.2. Sophomore Maria Sargent followed with a 156th place finish in 21:40.7. Freshman Sarah Cobb ran 168th in 22:08.8, while junior Tavia Hoheisel finished 176th in 22:26.5 for the Lady Eagles.

Head Coach for Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Wade Miller took the poor conditions in stride, and noted that even the rougher races pay off later in the season.

“I think the more experience they get under their belts, the better,” Miller said. “As long as it’s a situation where we can stay healthy and get some good experience in, even the rough weather is a good experience. Not necessarily fun, but it is good to have that under your belt because once you get to the championship, you can say, ‘We can handle whatever is thrown at us.’ Not everyone gets to say that. I think it prepares you on several different levels.”

Oklahoma Christian’s focus on the Heartland championship and nationals influences everything they do – such as Miller’s decision in changing the lineup for the Oklahoma Baptist Bison Invitational over fall break. Four of the Eagles’ top seven runners – Diaz, Keirns, Durrill and Zuercher – took the week  off to continue training and recovering instead.

“It’s more of a long-term thing,” Keirns said. “We’re always looking towards nationals, just one race at a time.”

In their absence, Kaelin led Oklahoma Christian as they finished seventh out of 11 teams, claiming 13th in 26:08.7. Stephens and Stoots rounded out the Eagles’ top-50 finishes with times of 26:50 and 28:08, earning spots in 22nd and 50th, respectively. Freshman Nathan Giles (89th in 32:10) and junior Riley Compton (94th in 34:41) closed out the race for the Eagles.

Looking back at the team’s finishes and ahead to the competition, Diaz seems at ease in Oklahoma Christian’s ability to clinch another championship.

“I think we have a very good chance of claiming the conference title,” Diaz said. “I’m confident in our team’s ability to pull themselves together. We have a good group of five runners – a pretty solid group of five runners that will clear it up.”

Beyond simply a core group of runners, Miller sees Oklahoma Christian’s need to pull tighter as the big races come closer.

“I think just really coming together as a team is important,” Miller said. “That’s outside of racing, but also during the race we need to close down the gaps; we’ve got pretty big gaps from our one to five guy – on both sides, the women and the men. We really need to squeeze that down because obviously in a big race, teams can put a lot of people in the middle and put some points on you, so we’ve definitely got to work on that.”

Despite the health issues that plagued the team these past few weeks, the men’s and women’s cross-country squads plan to be ready for the coming meets.

“We’ll be full strength at the Heartland championships and nationals,” Miller said.


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