By: Sam Knehans, Communications & Sports Information Intern
LAWRENCE, Kan. — The 34th Annual NAIA Women’s Cross Country National Championships will take place Saturday at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan. This is the first year that the race, hosted by the Lawrence Sports Corporation and the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC), will be held at the course.
Built in 1974, Rim Rock Farm has been home to three Big Eight Championships (1983, 1991 and 1995), the NCAA Division I and II Championships (1998), a Big 12 Championship (2006) and countless high school state championships.
The 5-kilometer women’s race will begin at 11:45 a.m. CST, following the 8-kilometer men’s race, which is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. CST. The Championships Award Ceremony will be held at Abe and Jake’s Landing—8 East 6th Street, Lawrence, Kan. 66044—and will begin at approximately 2:30 p.m.
A total of 327 student-athletes from 95 schools will vie for the women’s individual and team titles. The 32-team field is comprised of 21 conference, independent and unaffiliated grouping champions; two conference, independent and unaffiliated grouping runners-up and nine at-large selections. One hundred and three individual qualifiers, representing 63 institutions, will also compete in the race.
Nine of the top 10 teams from last year’s National Championships in Fort Vancouver, Wash., led by defending national champion British Columbia and defending national runner-up College of Idaho, will compete in Lawrence. Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) champion British Columbia enters the race as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, hoping to become just the third program in NAIA history to begin the season ranked No. 1 and go on to win the National Championships.
The Thunderbirds are led by A.I.I. individual titlist and Runner of the Week (Oct. 9) Maria Bernard. The junior is one of four returners from last year’s national championship squad and one of two returning All-Americans, along with Jackie Regan. The pair finished sixth and seventh, respectively, at the 2012 National Championships.
Hillary Holt, 2012 NAIA National Champion and two-time (2012, 2013) Cascade Collegiate Conference (CCC) individual titlist, leads the CCC champion and No. 2 College of Idaho team that returns three All-Americans, who each finished among the top 10 individuals at the 2012 National Championships: Holt (1st), Sarah Johnson (9th) and Sora Klopfenstein (10th).
Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) champion No. 3 Biola (Calif.) will again rely on underclassman Kellian Hunt, now a sophomore, as its top runner. GSAC individual titlist Hunt was an All-American in 2012, after finishing 15th at the National Championships as a freshman.
No. 6 Dordt (Iowa), which has been ranked among the top 10 throughout 2013, cemented its position as a national title contender by besting the 30-team NAIA Preview Meet field on Oct. 12 at Rim Rock Farm. The Defenders outpaced a field that contained four top 10 teams from last year’s National Championships and 10 teams that will be competing in the 2013 National Championships on Saturday.
No. 5 Cal State San Marcos, No. 8 Olivet Nazarene (Ill.), No. 10 Oklahoma Baptist and No. 11 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) and No. 13 Carroll (Mont.) are familiar programs that will also be in the mix for the national title, after finishing among the top 10 last season.
Returning All-Americans Hannah Helker of Oklahoma Baptist, Hannah Kellerman of The Master’s (Calif.), Julie Oosterhouse of Cornerstone (Mich.), Hilary Halford of St. Francis (Ill.) and Danielle Hoop of Cumberlands (Ky.) should be among the competitors for the individual title. Runners of the Week Ayed Reyes of Cal State San Marcos (Sept. 18) and Lindsey Martin of Columbia (Mo.) could also be challengers.
Helker, who finished third at last year’s National Championships, may have the best chance to unseat defending national champion Holt. Helker outpaced the 268-runner NAIA Preview Meet field on Oct. 12 at Rim Rock Farm with a 5k time of 17:03, over a minute better than her nearest competitor. She has also been named Runner of the Week three times in 2013 (Oct. 2, Oct. 16, Oct. 30), after earning the award twice in 2012, and posted the fastest 5k qualifying time of 16:44.
For the complete list of Women’s Cross Country Team Qualifiers, click here.
For the complete list of Women’s Cross Country Individual Qualifiers, click here.
For all other information regarding the Women’s Cross Country National Championships, click here.