National’s finish line is on horizon


John Davidson | The Chart

Senior Andrew Webster makes his way to the finishing line at the annual Southern Stampede held in Joplin on Sept. 20, 2014. The Lions finished in third place at the event with Webster crossing the line in 25:23.58, a time which secured him an eighth place finish.

Missouri Southern cross country will compete in its biggest race of the year tomorrow when both men’s and women’s teams run in the NCAA Division II National Championship meet in Louisville, Ky.

Both teams enter the competition with high hopes after achieving a high level of success throughout the year.

The latest coaches poll shows the Lions women ranked No. 12 in the country while the men come in at No. 14.

“We got a good look at some of the better teams in the country a couple weeks ago at regionals,” said head coach Patty Vavra. “That gives us a pretty good idea of what we’re up against. Any time you get a chance to compete at that level of competition, it gives you the opportunity to figure out what kind of race you will have to run at nationals.”

Both men’s and women’s teams finished third in the Division II Central Region Championship at Wayne, Neb., Nov. 22, qualifying them to compete in the national meet.

“Being in the national meet brings some notoriety to Missouri Southern and the ability to continue to be in that meet year after year says a lot about your program,” said Vavra.

At this late stage of the season, the athletes on each team have put in the training necessary to get to this point. It’s now about making sure everyone is healthy and their legs are fresh and ready to go.

“We’re struggling with little injuries from a few girls but that’s common with this season lasting longer than usual,” said senior Kaitlyn Belisle. “We’re all just really excited that we made it to nationals as a team, so we’re just going in with the mindset that we’ve had and just run the best we can. It will be exciting to run against the best in Division II and just see where we compare to everyone else.”

For several of the athletes, this is the peak of their athletic careers, a race they’ve been dreaming about since childhood. They also know it’s a tremendous opportunity for them.

“It would be crazy and a blessing to win a national title,” said senior Colton Wooldridge. “It would be a testament to all the hard work my teammates and I put in. It would definitely put Missouri Southern on the map.”

“I’m excited to put on the colors for my last NCAA Cross Country Championship with my teammates; it couldn’t have played out any better in my mind,” said senior Andrew Webster. “Eric and I have the ability to be All-Americans, and we plan on that. We’re confident that a top 10 finish is in our reach as well as long as we perform to our abilities as a team.”

Winning won’t be an easy task for the Lions; some of the best runners in the country stand in their way.

“The biggest difference is just going to be having to get out a lot faster than normal,” said senior Eric Schott. “You have to put yourself in a position where you want to finish early. Otherwise, you get boxed in and make it extremely difficult to move up in the race.”

For Schott and several other key senior members of the team, tomorrow’s race will be the last time they put on a Lions cross country jersey.

“It will be a special moment, but getting the job done is the most important part of it,” said Schott. “I would rather have my last cross country race be remembered for being an All- American than just putting on the jersey.”

Those jerseys are green and gold; colors that both the mens and womens teams hope to make synonymous with cross country success after tomorrow.