COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific stayed close to home for its final meet of preparation before the Pacific West Conference cross country championship meet which looms just two weeks away, and the Cougars came through with some of their top team and individual performances of the season Saturday at the Vanguard Invitational at Fairview Park.
All 11 women’s participants finished within the top 40 of the 104-runner field, and Azusa Pacific’s top-two finishers, Kristie Sikma and Sarah Higgens, both posted their first career sub-18 minute performances to move into the program’s top-ten all-time. Sikma finished in 17:45.62 and was the second collegiate finisher in the race, and Higgens was right behind her by less than a second, claiming third among collegians with a time of 17:46.29.
“That top group ran very well, and the only thing we need to work on is improving our gap from our top four to our number five,” Cougar head coach Preston Grey said. “We need to tighten that up a little bit, and that will really help things. Other than that, I thought we competed very well. They ran very patiently and worked their way up through the pack.”
On the men’s side, freshman Ryan Phillips led a trio of Cougars who finished within the top-20, knocking 40 seconds off his season-best to finish 11th among collegiate runners with a time of 26:19.64. It was the first team-leading finish for Phillips, who was closely followed by sophomore Peter Buscheck (26:25.55) and freshman Aaron Potts (26:39.21).
“This was the best race of the season for the men’s team,” Grey said. “This was our fastest team time of the year and our best team race, and it sets us up well going into the PacWest meet. I think we can definitely run better, but the guys are getting closer and this is definitely a big step in the right direction.”
Azusa Pacific claimed second place in both the men’s and women’s team standings, finishing ahead of a pair of PacWest programs (Point Loma and Fresno Pacific) they’ll see again in two weeks at the conference meet in Kahuku, Hawai‘i.
The women’s team, running its first team 5K since the season opener after participating in 6K races at UC Riverside and Stanford, saw another dramatic improvement from freshman Natalie Koskela, who bettered her season-opening 19:01 by almost a minute to 18:10.53, good for eighth place overall. Freshman Sarah MacIntosh ran an 18:29.29 as the Cougars’ No. 4 finisher, and three more crossed the finish line together around the 19-minute mark.
Junior Diandra Carstensen finished 25th overall with an 18:58.97, freshman Reika Kijima was 26th with 18:59.80, and freshman Melissa Quintero was 27th with a time of 19:03.44.
On the men’s side, sophomore Devin Pierce and junior Zach Ginn finished together in 27th and 28th overall. Pierce shave six seconds off his personal-best, running in 27:02.03, and Ginn rounded out Azusa Pacific’s top-five with his time of 27:03.72. Other finishers included senior Matt Hoekstra with a season-best 27:27.24, while sophomore Cameron Correa-Henschke claimed 39th overall (27:43.76).