STANFORD, Calif. -- Competing with some of the best cross country programs from every collegiate division, Azusa Pacific put together solid performances within a competitive field Saturday at the Stanford Invitational.
The Cougars posted a 16th-place finish out of 29 teams in the women’s 6K race, led by a top-25 individual finish from sophomore Kristie Sikma; the men finished 24th out of 29 teams but finished second out of four of the Pacific West Conference programs that competed in the event.
Sikma held her position in the top-25, fighting off six other runners who finished within four seconds of her time of 21:41, which put her 23rd overall among 292 individuals. She was sixth individually among NCAA Division II athletes, crossing the line just two seconds behind California Baptist’s leader Jennifer Mallen.
”Kristie battled really well, and even though her goal was top-20, she was right there at the end,” Cougar head coach Preston Grey said. “She’ll have a shot to finish at the front again in the conference meet.”
The rest of her Azusa Pacific teammates each finished ahead of their California Baptist counterparts, leading the Cougars to a two-minute, eight-second margin over the defending PacWest champions. Junior Sarah Higgens ran a 22:13 to finish 60th overall and Azusa Pacific’s third finisher, freshman Sarah MacIntosh, also finished ahead of the Lancers’ No. 2 finisher. MacIntosh clocked a 22:49, good for 112th overall.
Rounding out the Cougars’ top-five were freshman Natalie Koskela (23:06, 141st) and junior Diandra Carstensen (23:30, 173rd). Freshman Melissa Quintero came in 23:44, and in her first collegiate race, freshman Reika Kijima posted a time of exactly 24 minutes.
Saturday’s event was the second meeting between Azusa Pacific and California Baptist, who will not race head-to-head again until the Pacific West Conference Cross Country Championships on Oct. 27. The Cougars have finished ahead of the Lancers both times, doing so by a margin of just over two minutes at both this weekend’s race as well as the season-opening UC Irvine Invitational.
“For how young we are, Stanford is a really tough race to run,” Grey said. “I think we’ve shown what we can do, and I like where we’re at looking ahead to the conference meet. All the pressure is on California Baptist, because it’s their title to defend.”
The Cougars were fourth among Division II teams, finishing only behind Adams State (No. 2 national ranking), Chico State (No. 6), and Humboldt State.
“This type of race shows that we’ve definitely got a ways to go, and we’ve got to keep plugging away at it,” Grey said. “These are the meets where you have to learn to compete well if you want to be a top Division II program.”
Bolstered by the return of junior Zach Ginn and freshman Ryan Phillips, who both sat out Azusa Pacific’s last competition two weeks ago to rest injuries, the Cougars finished 24th overall and were led by Ginn, who posted the first team-leading time of his career by clocking a 26:36 to finish 143rd overall. It was Ginn’s third-fastest race as a Cougar, and it helped propel Azusa Pacific to finish second out of the four PacWest programs which competed in Saturday’s event.
“Zach moved up really well throughout the race,” Grey said. “It was good to have him back, because he’s definitely our most veteran guy.”
Defending PacWest champion California Baptist finished three minutes and 29 seconds ahead of the Cougars as a team, but Azusa Pacific held a significant edge over fellow conference rivals Academy of Art and Notre Dame de Namur. The men’s field also included three of Division II’s top-16 programs, with top-ranked Adams State and third-ranked Chico State, which finished second and third, respectively, along with 16th-ranked Humboldt State, which claimed 13th place. California Baptist was the next Division II program at 19th, followed by Cal State Stanislaus at 22nd and Azusa Pacific in 24th.
“With our injuries, I’m not surprised we lost a little ground,” said Grey, whose team finished less than a minute behind California Baptist three weeks ago at the season-opening UC Irvine Invitational. “We’ve got four weeks to get healthy and gear up for the conference meet.”
Sophomore Peter Buscheck was the next Cougar to finish, registering a time of 26:43 for his third consecutive top-two finish on the team, and freshman Aaron Potts was Azusa Pacific’s third finisher, cracking 27-minutes for the second straight race with a time of 26:59.
Phillips posted a time of 27:36 in his first race since the season-opener, finishing fourth among Cougar entries and leading a pack with four other teammates who all finished under or within just a few seconds of the 28-minute mark. Sophomore Cameron Correa-Henschke rounded out the top-five, finishing in 27:43, and he was closely followed by freshman Sam Baker (27:55), sophomore Devin Pierce (27:58), and senior Matt Hoekstra (28:03).
Azusa Pacific’s cross country teams are back in action in two weeks at the Vanguard Invitational on Oct. 13, which serves as the final tune-up before the Oct. 27 Pacific West Conference Championships in Kahuku, Hawai‘i.