“by Larissa Saarel”
Imagine you are toeing the starting line with your team, there are 200 people to your left and 150 people to your right. Everything is silent, excluding the breaths of hundreds of runners as they wait in nervous and excited anticipation for the race to start. The gun marshal says, “to your mark…” and the gun fires. The national cross-country meet is underway. The ground trembles and shakes. This is the environment Rocky’s men’s and women’s cross-country teams competed in for their final meet of the season.
Last year, the national meet was held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and it was the women team’s first national meet. Senior Carrie Daniels said of the 2018 national meet, “I wanted us to make it [to nationals], but I didn’t necessaryily believe it. When we did, I wasn’t super surprised because we were pretty good, but I felt like we just barely made it.”
Over the past few years, both teams have made enormous strides. Just a couple of years ago, the women’s team was desperate for numbers, and could barely compete with the other teams in the Frontier Conference. This year, though, the women were Conference Champions, and the men placed second behind a very strong Lewis and Clark State Men’s XC team (whose team placed 3rd at nationals).
Going into the final meet of the 2019 season, both the men’s and women’s teams had similar goals. Seniors Keegan Council and Isaac Petsch, both said of the men’s team, “we can be top 15.” Daniels, the sole senior on the women’s team said that she believes the girls may be able to place top 10.
This year, the NAIA National Championship meet was held in Vancouver, Washington. The Battlin’ Bears had the chance to feel out the course the day before the meet, which was held at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Although the course was slightly hilly, it was nothing the teams weren’t prepared for. “Everything has led up to this moment,” said Daniels.
On Friday morning, the nervous energy was fluttering inside everyone. The team thought it was a nice change to be running so close to sea level, and the weather was beautiful and sunny. The men raced at 10:30 a.m., while the women raced at 11:30 a.m.
Seven men ran for Rocky in the national meet, including Jackson Duffey, Issac Petsch, Elijah Boyd, Jackson Wilson, George Beddow, Joseph Van- den Bos, and Keegan Council.
Council spoke of his final collegiate meet stating, “I want to finish knowing I left it all on the course.”
The men’s team proved to do just that. They were ranked 19th going into the national meet, but came out with an impressive 13th place team finish (out of 37), which was the highest placing for the men’s XC team in Rocky history.
The seven runners on the women’s side were Ruth Chepsat, Sydney Little Light, Courtney Hallock, Mei-Li Stevens, Carrie Daniels, Larissa Saarel, and Carina Bracy. The women placed 11th as a team (out of 37), after being ranked 13th going into the meet. They were cheered to victory by fellow teammate, Guan-Yin Stevens. This, too, was the highest placing by any women’s XC
team in Rocky’s history. Notably, they were led by Ruth Chepsat, who placed 12th , and was the first woman to receive the All-American award in XC for Rocky Mountain College and the highest placing recorded.
Major thanks go out to all of the coaching staff, especially Coach Mike McLean and Coach Mackenzie O’Dore, parents, friends, supporters, and the community. Petsch said, “I would like to extend that thanks to cats all around the world.”
The women’s team also wants to thank teammate, Corinne Hamilton, for her never-ending support, love, and strength through adversity.
Daniels said, “I am thankful for fellow seniors, Courtney and Corinne, for sticking through it all with me until the very end.”
Petsch had a few parting words: “I’m proud of this team and how far we’ve come from my first year, we’ve really come a long ways getting both teams to nationals two years in a row. We have made leaps and bounds above where we used to be.”
The Battlin’ Bears will now enjoy a much deserved break before the indoor track season begins.