Rain doesn’t dampen women’s championship

Hallie Hocker

Shouts of “MOSO” echoed off the gravestones and homes next to Bolivar Golf Course where Missouri Southern claimed the MIAA women’s cross country championship Saturday, Oct. 21.

“The guys’ [men’s team] cheering made all the difference in the world,” said women’s head coach Patty Vavra. “It was overwhelming and dominant and had to be a great motivator for our women.”

It was a hard-fought race in the rain, but the Lions came out on top shortly followed by Southwest Baptist University and Pittsburg State University. This was Southern’s first MIAA women’s cross country title since 1998.

“As a team, we weren’t as surprised as those looking from the outside because we knew what potential we had,” said junior Ashley Hendrix.

Coaches Patty Vavra and Jamie Burnham said they weren’t at all surprised at the win despite having doubts at the start of the season.

“Undoubtedly the strength of this team all year is we have 10 ladies very evenly matched to fill spots every meet,” Vavra said. “Every day in practice they pushed and challenged each other and made everybody better.”

Hendrix said the team was individual at first, but has seen huge improvements in teamwork over the course of the season.

“Every time they’ve had a workout, they’ve stepped up and done it as good or better than the last time,” Burnham said.

Vavra said the group knows their success depends on each other.

She and Burnham said great team effort at the MIAA Championship led to the Lions’ small pack time and win.

“Honestly, we had a couple who did not run not the best race of their life, but we had a couple step up and have the best race they’ve ever had,” Vavra said.

Freshman Kimi Shank led the Lions with a seventh-place finish of 22:15.59 followed shortly by sophomore Alison Walker. Walker took 8th in 22:16.91. Both received All-MIAA honors. Sophomore Kara Eckard came in 13th (22:26.82) and freshman Courtney Waltbillig took 15th with 22:37.17. Freshman Ashley Bunch crossed the finish line at 22:59.22 for 24th. Sophomores Krista Merrill (29th) and Kari Fritchie (37th) rounded out the Lions’ top seven with times of 23:12.33 and 23:37.26, respectively. Juniors Ashley Hendrix, Kelly O’Toole and Abbey Addams completed the course 42nd, 43rd and 46th, respectively.

Freshman Kimi Shank and sophomores Alison Walker and Kara Eckard said it was difficult to mentally prepare for the race, especially in the rain.

“At the beginning of the season we were unsure, but toward the end of the season we had more confidence,” Hendrix said.

The women are currently ranked No. 16 in the nation. Vavra said to advance to the national meet, every person will have to run the best race of their life.

“One thing we haven’t done yet is to have a date where every person on the team, on the same day, runs their best race,” she said.

The Lions will run the NCAA South Central Regional Saturday in Warrensburg.

“We’ll have to have a better race than we did at conference,” Walker said. “It’s a tough course.”

Eckard, however, is from Warrensburg and has raced a 5k on the course before.

“I’m glad to be back in my home town and show Central what’s up,” she said.