Men’s cross country team places 10th at national championships

Story by Sara

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On the morning of Nov. 17, the Baker University men’s cross country team was ranked No. 27 in the NAIA Coaches’ Poll, but by the afternoon it had earned a spot as one of the top 10 teams in the country.

During the NAIA Championships in Vancouver, Wash., three Wildcats finished in the top 100 to push the team to a 10th-place finish.

Senior Aaron Caldwell said prior to the race talks had surfaced that the Wildcats did not even deserve to be at the national meet. However, this was silenced after the final results were announced.

“Cross country is one of those sports where there is no such thing as underdogs, really,” Caldwell said. “If you are good and you finish high in a race, you are good and it’s because you have talent. And for us to do that was just unbelievable.”

Freshman Jeremy Bryan led BU with a time of 25:34 in the 8,000-meter race, which earned him a 46th-place finish. Caldwell finished 12 seconds behind Bryan in 61st place.

Senior Eric Larson and freshman Justin Bryan rounded out the top four runners for BU, as they finished close together in 99th and 102nd place, respectively. Larson ran a time of 26:08, and Justin ran a time 26:11.

The finishes helped the Wildcats place higher than any other team from Kansas and prove that their national recognition was not a coincidence.

“I don’t think I can describe how much work has gone into that and how much of a joy it was to get that,” Caldwell said.

When the results were first posted, members of the team could not get to the area to see what place they had received, but the moment they heard the news is one Jeremy Bryan said he will always remember.

“None of us were expecting for the team to get 10th,” Jeremy said. “We were expecting maybe 17th or 18th. When a coach finally told us what we got, we all went crazy. It was just incredible.”

Head coach Zach Kindler felt as though the Wildcats were a top 15 team all year, but they were simply not receiving the national nod they deserved.

“For them to go out and be in the top 10, and really only be a few points out of ninth place, it’s amazing,” Kindler said. “They actually just did what they have been doing all year … and had outstanding races across the board.”

Juniors Lauren Jaqua and Ashley McBride and sophomore Kerry Kurta also represented the Baker women’s team in the 5,000-meter race after qualifying at the Heart of America Athletic Conference Championships Nov. 3.

The meet marked the third-consecutive trip to nationals by Jaqua and McBride, but was Kurta’s first appearance on the national stage.

Jaqua placed 60th with a time of 19:04. McBride finished in 135th place and finished the race in 19:45. Kurta posted a time of 20:24, which put her in 216th place.

Both the men’s and women’s teams will look to return runners to the NAIA Championships next season. However, that trip would be much closer and on a familiar course for the Wildcats.

The NAIA announced in November that the 2013 and 2014 national championships will be hosted at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence.