By Alan Grosbach, Manager of Communications and Sports Information
ELSAH, Ill. – (Results) For the fourth time in the last five years, British Columbia brought home the team title at the 37th annual NAIA Women’s Cross Country National Championships Saturday at North Farm Cross Country Course in Elsah, Ill. The Thunderbirds, who also claimed the coveted red banner in 2012, 2013 and 2014, had their top four racers finish among the top 30 en route to 90 total points to best the 36-team field.
Natalia Hawthorn paced British Columbia and earned All-America honors for the fourth time with a sixth-place finish in a time of 17:23.75. The senior finished ninth last year, fourth in 2014 and 29th in 2013. The other Thunderbird runners to be named All-Americans were: Nicola Symonds (14th), Brianna Cairns (16th) and Madelyn Brunt (30th).
“We really liked the course,” said Chris Johnson, British Columbia Assistant Cross Country Coach. “It (the course) was challenging and I thought that it was a really good course for the athletes. We thought that if the women stepped up and came together as a team that they would have a shot at winning. To have four women in the top 30 and three in the top 20 was really something for us.”
Overall, British Columbia ran a combined 5-kilometer time of 1:28:38.36 – an average of 17:43.68 per runner. The Thunderbirds are now tied with former member Puget Sound (Wash.) for most team titles with four.
One of the great storylines on the day was the race by Oklahoma City’s Aminat Olowora. The Stars’ junior not only became the only individual champion in program history, she set a new NAIA championship meet record by covering the 5K course in 16:24.28 – approximately 17 seconds faster than the previous mark set in 2008 by Alissa McKaig of Indiana Tech.
“The coaches are always telling us to just go out there a do what you have to do,” said Olowora. “I felt good through the first mile, and since no one was with me I went my own pace. I’m very happy today to set a new record. Being at the national championship is the reason I train all season long. To be a successful student-athlete, you need to have a good coach. Good coaches lead to receiving a good education.”
Rounding out the top five individuals were Hannah Segrave of Milligan (Tenn.) with a time of 17:08.73; Jessa Perkinson of Southern Oregon, who covered the course in 17:13.54; Betsy Douglas of USC Beaufort (S.C.), who finished in 17:21.26; and Tiffany Rauch of Indiana Tech with a time of 17:23.15.
Defending national team champion Northwest Christian (Ore.) placed second as a team with 135 points. Sierra Brown, who finished fourth at the 2015 National Championship, was the top racer for the Beacons. The senior took 19th overall in a time of 17:41.01.
Rounding out the top five teams were Biola (Calif.) (166 points), Aquinas (Mich.) (180 points) and Oklahoma City (206 points). Both Biola and Aquinas also finished third and fourth at the 2015 event.