Shank wins MIAA, Vavra named Coach of the Year

Kimi Shank is congratulated by womens cross country coach Patty Vavra during the Southern Stampede. Shank won the MIAA Conference last week.

Kimi Shank is congratulated by women’s cross country coach Patty Vavra during the Southern Stampede. Shank won the MIAA Conference last week.

After winning the MIAA Cross Country Championships, the Missouri Southern women’s cross country team will compete tomorrow, boasting the MIAA individual champion and the Coach of the Year.

The team, which will run in the South Central Regional Championship, was led by junior Kimi Shank in the conference meet.

Shank finished the 6k course first with a time of 21:54.

“Kimi is having a great season,” said women’s Head Coach Patty Vavra. “She’s stronger and more focused this year. She is running consistently well.”

Shank, who has not lost to a single Division II runner all season, is the second female athlete in Southern history to win two individual championships.

“She really just ran away from the field,” Vavra said. “I’m extremely proud of her.”

Senior Kara Eckard finished seventh, while junior Courtney Waltbillig finished eighth.

“Courtney is doing really well,” Vavra said. “This is only her second race back. She has been out most of the season due to an injury.”

Shank, Eckard and Waltbillig were named All-MIAA performers.

Sophomore Silvia Pineda finished 11th, while sophomore Victoria Kline and senior Kari Fritchie finished 15th and 16th respectively. Sophomore Olga Bulgarova finished 23rd.

Junior Ashley Bunch did not race due to an injury.

“With Ashley gone, the girls knew someone would need to step up,” Vavra said. “Silvia Pineda stepped up for us and so did Kari Fritchie. Victoria Kline also ran very well.”

Coach Vavra was also named the MIAA Cross Country Coach of the Year after the team won its third consecutive title.

“I couldn’t do it without assistant coach Jamie Burnham,” Vavra said. “He is a positive influence and works a lot with the distance runners. Coaches win these awards because of their team. This is an additional recognition for the team and the work they do.”

Vavra is in her 15th year at Southern. This was Vavra’s fourth time to win the honor.

“This group is hard working and focused,” Vavra said. “Their hard work has paid off for the third year in a row and they deserve it.”

On the men’s side, junior Brennan Benkert finished second, to help the Lions to a third place overall finish.

“Brennan did a great job,” said men’s Head Coach Tom Rutledge. “He’s always been there for us.”

Benkert finished the 8k race with a time of 25:36, earning him All-MIAA honors.

The team finished behind Southwest Baptist and Pittsburg State.

“Hopefully, we can come back at regionals,” Rutledge said. “We need to beat the teams that beat us (SBU and PSU). Getting in the top three at regionals and the top eight at nationals is still achievable. It is just going to take a supreme effort.”

Freshman Jarrko Jarvenpaa finished 12th, while freshman Aki Nummela was 13th. Freshman Chris Bell earned an All-MIAA honorable mention with his 20th place finish.

“Chris Bell folded a little bit and spent a lot of the race playing catch up,” Rutledge said. “Deric Kimrey ran one of his best races and Derek Mendell was close as well.”

Kimrey finished 40th. Mendell finished 42nd, while junior Derek Wright finished 63rd.

“We were just beat,” Rutledge said. “No excuses.

“Some of the freshmen pulled through. They are getting stronger and more confident. I’m seeing improvement everyday. It just takes time. We can’t rush it.”

The men’s team will also run in tomorrow’s South Central Regional Meet in San Antonio, Texas.

“They are going to give their best,” Rutledge said. “They always do. The effort was there, but the experience was not.”