LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In what they hope will be a sign of things to come in about 6 weeks, the Azusa Pacific men’s and women’s cross country teams surprised the rank and file of the NAIA with 2 impressive showings in the Greater Louisville Cross Country Classic at Tom Sawyer State Park, Saturday morning.
Running on the same course that the NAIA Championships will be staged on Nov. 15, the Cougar men, ranked No. 9 in the latest NAIA poll, finished third with 122 points and was tops among the 25 NAIA teams in the 32-team field. Meanwhile, the Cougar women, led by junior Brianna Carstensen’s victory, finished sixth out of 34 teams with 204 points.
What is so impressive about the men’s showing is that not only were the Cougars the top-placing NAIA team but along they way they defeated 5 NAIA-ranked teams, including No. 2 Malone (Ohio).
“The guys went back there shooting for Malone,” said Azusa Pacific coach Bill Reeves, “and we beat them on their own Midwest course. I think we’ve proven that we’re definitely a top 4 team and could be a contender for the national championship.”
All-American Tim Ramirez paced the way by running a season-best 26:03 to finish 19th individually on a muddy 8K course that had to absorb 3 inches of rain from the night before. Junior transfer Peter Franz was next with a 26:22, good enough for 29th. Chris Ramirez, Tim's older brother, then teamed with junior Tim Gachago and sophomore Kevin Lindsey to go 36th through 38th respectively with times ranging from 26:29 to 26:31. Collectively, only 28 seconds separated Azusa Pacific’s top 5 runners, and it was just a mere 9 seconds between runners 2 through 5.
“They bunched up really well,” added Reeves, “even better than our first meet at Fullerton. They felt they were misranked at No. 9 and thought they had something to prove in Louisville.”
Wayne State (Mich.) won the men’s team competition with 42 points. Besides besting Malone, the Cougar men beat NCAA Division I members Belmont (Tenn.), Ohio and Louisville while running away from the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.), No. 16 Lindenwood (Mo.), No. 19 Shawnee State (Ohio) and No. 19 Berry (Ga.).
Less than 24 hours after falling from the NAIA Top 25, the Cougar women turned around and sent a loud message to the rating committee by beating 5 nationally-ranked teams in Louisville, including No. 11 Malone and No. 14 Aquinas (Mich.)
Carstensen ran with the lead pack most of the race until it whittled down to just her and Belmont’s Christy Csoma, who held a 1 second cushion on Carstensen with 800 meters to go. At that point Carstensen went into her kick to overcame a fading Cosma to win the by 7 seconds. Carstensen clocked a season-best 18:14, the third fastest time of her career, and collected her fifth individual victory in the past 6 meets dating back to last year.
“That’s a very good time on that course,” added Reeves. “Having the No. 1 runner does a lot for a team in a meet this big.”
Senior Christine Krause was 39th with a 19:32 while junior Marissa Reeber, running for the first time this season, clocked a 19:39 to finish 45th.
“I told the ladies that it was embarrassing to drop out of the top 25, and that we have to show everyone that we are a better team than that,” said Reeves. “This effort gives them a lot of confidence. I think we should be in the top 16 when all is done.”
Azusa Pacific hopes to return to Louisville in mid-November for the NAIA Cross Country Championships. For the first time since 1981 the national championship meet will not be held in Kenosha, Wis., but rather in Louisville this year on the same course at Tom Sawyer State Park.
“I really like this course compared to Kenosha,” said Reeves. “It’s a beautiful park with a good setting, and it’s a fair course.”
Whether the Cougars return or not depends on their efforts in the coming weeks and the eventual national rankings.
“We accomplished what we came here to do,” commented Reeves on the teams’ goals to solidify their standing on the national scene.