By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
The men’s and women’s cross country teams captured their respective Lone Star Conference titles Saturday in Portales, N.M. The women’s team’s performance was notable in that Wildcat runners captured the top three spots in the race, as well as the seventh- and 20th-place spots, for a team score of 33.
ACU won easily, beating out second-place finisher Angelo State (65 points) and third-place Texas A&M-Kingsville (96).
Sophomore Yuliya Stashkiv led the ACU charge to place first in the race, completing the 6,000-meter course in 22:48. Senior Justine Nahimana was second for ACU with a time of 23:15, followed by sophomore Abbie Waters in third with a time of 23:29. Freshman Crystal Berndt earned all-conference honors with her seventh-place finish, running 23:53 on the course. Senior Jody Pelletier finished as a strong fifth runner for the Wildcats, completing the course in 25:06.
Head coach Jon Murray said he was pleased with the way the women handled their competition.
“I feel good about them; they really competed well with good competition,” Murray said. “They’re going to have to do that, plus a little more, to get to go to nationals.”
Murray said Berndt’s and Waters’ performances were highlights for the women.
“To have a freshman finish seventh at conference-that’s great,” Murray said. “Abbie has been quite a wonder from last year-she was 18th last year at the conference meet and was third this year.”
After scoring a perfect 15 points at last year’s LSC meet, the men’s team scored a mediocre 36 in Saturday’s 8,000-meter race. A slow pace and 20-30 mile per hour winds resulted in times that were often a minute slower than normal for Wildcat runners.
Led by junior Bernard Manirakiza in first (25:03), the Wildcats filled the third, fourth, 10th and 18th positions in the race, beating out runner-up East Central (53) and Texas A&M-Kingsville (81).
The team will have to have a better race at the Division II Cross Country Championships, Murray said, to have a shot at placing well.
“For us to go to nationals and do as well as we can, we’ll have to pick up the intensity of how we compete,” Murray said. “I don’t think we raced up to our ability.”
Senior Nick Branen said a true prediction of how ACU is running will come at the region meet in two weekends, but that he thinks this team has a chance for great success this season.
“It’s a pretty comparable team to last year,” Branen said.
Freshman Olha Kryvyak, who has not competed all season because of suffering heat stroke while training in late August, ran for the women’s team Saturday, placing 46th in 27:21. Kryvyak, who was expected to be the No. 2 women’s runner before her injury, has been training for a few weeks, and Murray said her improvement is noticeable.
“That heat stroke really took it out of her,” Murray said. “She’s had a great attitude and hasn’t gotten discouraged or anything-she really gets better almost every single day.”
Both teams will have this weekend off before traveling to Commerce for the NCAA Division II South Central Region Champinoships on Nov. 8. The men’s team is currently ranked first in the region, while the women’s team dropped to third.