ST. PAUL, Minn. – Consistently running in perfect weather conditions doesn’t always translate into perfect training for distance running, and that’s the reason Azusa Pacific cross country coach Preston Grey literally took his team across the country – to find less than desirable conditions.
On a weekend when blue skies and warm temperatures permeated the Southern California landscape, Grey and his nationally-ranked Azusa Pacific cross country teams were slinging mud, dodging raindrops and wearing coats on a typical Midwest fall day at the Roy Griak Invitational hosted by the University of Minnesota.
In preparation for what they believe they will see at the NAIA championship meet in mid-November, the Cougars ran on a muddy course that had everything they could want, including a championship atmosphere – and the Cougars fared well.
The Cougar women, who are ranked No. 2 in the NAIA, finished third among a field of NCAA Division II schools, averaging 23:09 per athlete on a 6K course. The Azusa Pacific men, who are ranked 16th in the NAIA, came in fourth overall, running on the heels of No. 9 Concordia University of Nebraska, which edged the Cougars, 171 points to 210.
“We’re almost a top-ten ranked team,” said Grey as looked over the men’s results. “We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close. It’s possible we may crack the top ten this year but we’ll need to keep improving.”
Led by All-American Abednego Magut and freshman Wade Meddles, Azusa Pacific grabbed the early lead after 2 runners with Magut and Meddles finishing second and fourth respectively. Magut clocked a 25:12, just 17 seconds behind the winner, while Meddles registered a 25:28.
“Abed and Wade ran much better than they did in the first meet of the season,” said Grey. “They are becoming the runners we know they can be.”
“Anthony ran better than I expected,” said Grey, “and he and Winston really competed well in the big field. Overall, the meet was a good step for the men. They competed well in less than desirable conditions.”
Augustana College (S.D.) won the men’s meet with 60 points, with Wisconsin-Parkside finishing second with 158.
Junior Lauren Jimison resumed her spot atop the Cougar leader-board, finishing third out of 287 women and 2 seconds ahead of sophomore Poppy Lawman, who was fifth. In their only 6K competition of the year, Jimison ran a 22:20 while Lawman checked in with a 22:22.
The Cougars had the overall team lead through 3 runners after senior Victoria Martinez was 11th with a 22:52.
However, NCAA Division II members Minnesota-Duluth (70) and University of Mary (98) caught the Cougars over the final 2 runners to beat Azusa Pacific in the final standings.
“We looked very good up front,” said Grey. “Lauren looked like herself of a year ago and ran a great race. Poppy continues to be an elite runner, and Victoria is one of the best No. 3 runners for any team in the nation.”
In spite of being sick earlier in the week and competing in her first large college competition, freshman Melissa Telon ran well, finishing 31st with a 23:45.
Senior Kayla Carstensen was Azusa Pacific’s fifth runner, coming in 71st with a 24:26.
“We had a pretty quick team time on a tough course,” said Grey. “It was a rolling course with no flat parts, similar to what we’ll see at the NAIAs.”
And best of all the weather conditions likely mimicked those the Cougars will see in Vancouver, Wash., on Nov. 20.
“We got what we wanted out of this meet,” said Grey. “It was a good step in preparing us for nationals. The weather was cool and damp. The course was muddy, and the atmosphere was championship-like. Minnesota really did a good job putting on this meet.”
Azusa Pacific is off next week and returns to the course Oct. 9 at the Vanguard Invitational in Costa Mesa, Calif.