The Eastern Mennonite University men's and women's cross country teams competed in the South-Southeast Regional meet on Saturday in Newport News, Va.
"It was a perfect day for cross country," declared interim coach Hannah Chappell-Dick. "Couldn't have asked for better conditions."
It may have been a little windy, but all that got blown away were old PRs (personal records) and the competition.
EMU's men's and women's teams made their presence known. The women's team finished ninth of the 34 teams, led by senior Michaela Mast (Broadway, Va./Eastern Mennonite) and her All-Region finish. The men were unable to score as a team, but had strong individual finishes.
"After working together for the whole season, everything is basically down to a science," said Chappell-Dick. "The team knew what they had to do and executed it very well."
The men's 8K race was the first event of the day.
"All the men had incredibly huge races," Chappell-Dick said.
Sophomore Diego Avila (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) came in first for the team, with a PR of over a minute and time of 27:06. He was closely followed by freshman Justice Allen (Waynesboro, Va./Waynesboro) who sailed over the finish line with a time of 27:15, for a 20-second PR.
"Diego finally had the race that he'd been training for and we knew he was capable of," Chappell-Dick explained, "and Justice ran like an experienced runner despite it being his first Regionals race."
Junior Derrick Chirinos (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) was the next through the finish chute, smashing his previous PR by over a minute with a time of 28:41. Wrapping it up for the men's side was Calin Boeckman (Staunton, Va./Fort Defiance) in 30:32.
Graduate student Bahman Shahi (Kabul, Afghanistan/Kabul University) also ran, but took a wrong turn along with a pack of other runners, and his race was unable to be scored.
"That was unfortunate because he was doing really well and probably would have run his best time had that mistake not been made," Chappell-Dick commented.
Shahi joined the team partway through the season, helping to bolster the small and sometimes injured men's roster.
"I really like it, the team spirit is high, you can see your improvement," said Shahi. "I like the team spirit in the cross country team. You have the support of everyone, the coach, the teammates."
The women's 6K championship was next with Mast leading the way. She ran a smartly paced race, making up an enormous deficit throughout the 3.75 miles. She made incredible moves from the one-mile marker, where her placement was in the 60s, to the end of the race, where she finished 16th. She missed qualifying for Nationals by just five places.
"Michaela ran her last cross country race," said Chappell-Dick, "coming within 15 seconds of qualifying for nationals in her first season of cross country. It was disappointing for her, but also a huge breakout race, significantly faster than she'd ever run before, aside from ODACs, which was a slightly short course."
Following Mast were sophomore duo Megan Good (Harrisonburg, Va./Eastern Mennonite) and Elizabeth Nisly (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton), with PRs of 23:21 and 23:26 respectively. They placed 59th and 66th in the field of 240 runners.
"Elizabeth and Megan ran together for much of the race," said Chappell-Dick, "and ended up completely smashing their PRs as well on a fair course, which is awesome to see. Those two are going to keep improving very quickly over the next two years and will definitely be threats for All-Region in the next season or two."
Next over the line for EMU was four-year senior Kat Lehman (Dover, Ohio/Dover), finishing her long cross country career with grace. She ran a time of 24:10.
"She had a really strong finish for her season," said Chappell-Dick, "running one of the best times of the season, and it's been a joy to be able to see Kat persevere during some setbacks in her career and hang in with her team, she's a real team player for that."
"It was great to see EMU running together as a pack and finish to the best of our potential," said Chappell-Dick.
"It was really exciting to be running with all my teammates one last time," added Lehman. "I just felt really lucky to be out there running in the sunshine with people I care about."
This year's regional competition was the steepest it's ever been, with 25% more schools than usual and about 60 extra runners in the field.
"[It] just really upped the ante," explained Chappell-Dick. "So the region was probably the most competitive the South-Southeast Region has ever been. In subsequent years we will definitely have to raise our expectations for ourselves and I expect our teams to be able to rise to that occasion and continue to improve even as the region improves as a whole."
With no one advancing to the national meet, the 2017 EMU cross country season has come to a close.
Assistant Coach Joanna Friesen reflected on the season.
"As coaches, we can only work with what the athletes bring to the sport," Friesen said. "All season, through injury, setbacks, steady training, and triumph the athletes have brought commitment and energy. It was good to see this passion validated with such a good day at the end of the season."
This was Coach Chappell-Dick's last meet as coach, as she had been filling an interim position. She is an EMU alumna, class of 2016.
"It's been an incredible blessing to have a season of coaching at the school I love with the runners I care about," she said. "It's great to see this sport from the other side."
Lehman also reflected on her four years running cross country at EMU.
"It's definitely something that shaped me a lot more than I realized," she said. "Being a part of something, especially a team like this, where everyone's just who they are and we all love that about each other has been really special for me."
The EMU squad is young overall, however, and will be returning a lot of runners, as they continue to be a force to contend with.
-- by Elizabeth Nisly, Sports Information Intern