KAHUKU, Hawai‘i -- For the ninth time in the past 12 years, Azusa Pacific claimed its conference championship in women’s cross country, but it was the Cougars’ first-ever team championship in NCAA Division II competition as they won their very first Pacific West Conference championship Saturday at the Kahuku Golf Course.
Five Cougars earned All-PacWest honors, with junior Sarah Higgens earning first-team status with her team-high sixth-place finish. Sophomore Kristie Sikma and freshman Sarah MacIntosh were on the all-conference second team, while junior Diandra Carstensen and freshman Natalie Koskela earned third-team status with their top-20 finishes.
“It wasn’t pretty by any stretch, but it was just enough to win it,” Azusa Pacific cross country head coach Preston Grey said. “Grand Canyon got out hard and fast, and California Baptist charged late, so we had to have a huge finish at the end. I think we passed five or six girls over the last 200 meters, and those were big points.”
In the men’s race, Azusa Pacific placed fourth out of 13 schools, led by an All-PacWest second team performance from sophomore Peter Buscheck, who placed 11th with a time of 26:48.85.
”The guys ran a so-so race–fourth as a team is better than we finished in the GSAC last year,” Grey said. “We definitely made some strides this year, but we’re still not quite where we ultimately want to be.”
Sikma, who was expected to compete for the individual title until she fell ill just days before Saturday’s meet, finished ninth overall, running behind Higgens, who was Azusa Pacific’s top finisher. Higgens took sixth overall, and her time of 18:43.20 was nearly a minute off her season-best, and Sikma’s 19:17.35 was still good for a top-ten finish although still a minute and a half off her season-best in hot, humid conditions.
“The weather definitely played a factor in both races,” Grey said. “The kids from the Hawai‘i schools did better than we had projected them, and the mainland schools struggled a little bit with the heat.”
Rounding out the scoring group for the Cougars was a trio of All-PacWest performers in MacIntosh (13th, 19:34.35), Carstensen (16th, 19:38.00), and Koskela (18th, 19:39.25), who all finished within five seconds of each other in a dash to the finish. The trio gained up to a half-dozen places over the final 200 meters, picking up enough spots to score a 12-point cushion over runner-up California Baptist. Grand Canyon was another 12 points off the pace, finishing third overall, while Academy of Art’s Jenny Bergren claimed the individual title with a 21-second victory over the second individual finisher.
The Cougars’ sixth and seventh finishers didn’t displace spots from the second- or third-place teams, but freshman Reika Kijima (34th, 20:25.85) finished just one spot behind the fourth-place finisher from the fourth-place team, Dixie State, and finished a place ahead of the No. 3 finisher from sixth-place Hawai‘i Pacific. Freshman Melissa Quintero rounded out Azusa Pacific’s contingent, finishing 44th overall with a time of 20:51.00.
In the men’s race, sophomore Devin Pierce followed Buscheck as Azusa Pacific’s second finisher, taking 24th overall (27:36.25) to come within five seconds of claiming all-conference honors. The remainder of the scoring group all placed between 32nd and 38th, finishing within 20 seconds of each other. Freshman Ryan Phillips was the last runner to finish under 28 minutes, posting a 27:59, while fellow freshmen Aaron Potts (34th, 28:08.85) and Sam Baker (38th, 28:19.05) both finished within Azusa Pacific’s top-five to impact scoring for the Cougars’ fourth-place team finish.
The other men’s finishers were junior Zach Ginn, who was 42nd overall with a time of 28:44.75, and senior Matt Hoekstra, who posted a 29:19.60 to finish 52nd overall.
Azusa Pacific has next weekend off before both teams participate in the National Christian College Athletic Association national championship meet held Nov. 10 in Cedarville, Ohio.