VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Azusa Pacific hoped to make a bit of history at the 2011 NAIA Women’s Cross Country National Championship, and although a runner-up finish wasn’t the goal they had in mind, they certainly made things interesting for Cal State San Marcos, which won its third consecutive NAIA title.
Two Cougars finished in the top five, both ahead of Cal State San Marcos’ top finisher, and Azusa Pacific made up most of an early deficit down the stretch in the third-closest finish (nine-point difference) in NAIA history. In addition, the Cougars’ 91-point score was the lowest score by a national runner-up since 1994. Azusa Pacific entered the national championship as the NAIA’s top-ranked team, defeating Cal State San Marcos in the season-opening UC Irvine Invitational, the only head-to-head meeting between the NAIA’s top two programs in 2011.
“We have to be pleased with our finish, because we ran as well as we could have on that day,” Cougar head coach Preston Grey said. “San Marcos was just a little bit better than us. They ran a great race and they’re a great team, and you have to give them credit.”
Senior Lauren Jimison finished second overall, crossing the line in 17:24, less than 10 seconds behind Grand View’s Obsie Birru, who ran out to an early lead and won the NAIA individual title with a time of 17:15. The gap between Jimison and third-place finisher Karlee Coffee of Eastern Oregon was twice as large as the margin between first and second. Jimison, who won all four of the 5k races she competed in prior to nationals, became a three-time NAIA All-American with her second-place finish.
“From start to finish, that season has to be right up there among individual accomplishments,” Grey said. “The year Jaime (Canterbury) Winslow won nationals, that was the only race she won all year, so Lauren’s season has to be right up there when you consider the whole body of work.”
Just six seconds out of third place with a time of 17:48 was Azusa Pacific junior Poppy Lawman, who claimed fifth overall for her second consecutive All-American honor. Lawman ran most of the race around the 10th position before closing in on the race leaders over the final 1,000 meters.
Sophomore Melissa Telon finished in 26th overall, clocking an 18:19 to join Jimison and Lawman with 2011 NAIA All-American honors. Freshman Kristie Sikma posted a time of 18:33, finishing 32nd overall, and junior Sarah Higgens was 45th overall in the 323-athlete field with a time of 18:48.
Senior Jacky Kipwambok was just six seconds behind Higgens, finishing 50th overall with her second-fastest 5k time of the year (18:54), and sophomore Diandra Carstensen registered a time of 20:03 to round out the Cougar contingent.
Instead of joining the five-member group of NAIA programs with multiple national titles, Azusa Pacific nonetheless posted its sixth consecutive and thirteenth overall top-10 finish, and it was the seventh time in program history the Cougars had placed in the top five.
“Part of the program’s culture is how we do everything we can to get ready for these big meets, and these girls have really embraced that,” Grey said. “The girls who weren’t the high school superstars have embraced that role, and it makes everybody better. It’s definitely nice to have years and years of tradition behind you, because that adds to the confidence and adds to the motivation.”
Cal State San Marcos is just the third NAIA program to ever win three consecutive championships.
On the men’s side, Azusa Pacific did not qualify as a team but was represented by sophomore Wade Meddles, who became the fifth two-time NAIA All-American when he earned the distinction for the second straight year, finishing 15th with a time of 24:31 despite having to recover from a foot injury during the season.
“I thought he competed very well,” Grey said. “He was in that top-15 group the whole race, and he fought in there. He missed some training to the injury which put him back a little bit on the day, but he improved on last year and set himself up nicely for track season.”
Oklahoma Christian captured its first-ever men's team title, and Wayland Baptist’s Kennedy Kithuka successfully defended his individual crown, winning the men’s race with a time of 23:15, just one second away from the championship meet record.