On the biggest stage of their young lives, the trio from the women’s cross country team made their college proud Nov. 10. They ran hard in windy and hilly conditions at the NJCAA Division I Cross Country Championship in Garden City, Kansas.
The challenging course and strong winds slowed the overall times, but could not stop the three Cyclones who qualified for this race. Even though she was edged out two weeks ago at the NJCAA Region IV tournament for the individual region championship, sophomore Calista Stefaniak passed that champ and finished first among all region runners in 51st place (21:03). She had her first taste of nationals last year when she finished 104th.
“Calista finished as the top runner in our region, which is such a big accomplishment considering we have never had a region champion. She was aiming for a top-40 finish, which would have made her an All-American, but I think she can leave with her head held high the way she executed her final race as a Cyclone,” said head Coach Dimitri Dimizas. “She had a great kick to pass up four women in the final few meters. She’ll be able to use this as a springboard when she competes at the next level next fall.”
Freshmen Madison Krisch (191st, 23:08) and Victoria Granz (222nd, 23:52) also had decent times in their first national tournament. “Madison and Victoria moved up throughout the entire race and had very strong finishes as they have all season. This experience will help them lead the team next season,” Dimizas said.
Stefaniak worked tirelessly all season for this moment. This was her final run with the Cyclones, and she had mixed feelings.
“The course was a challenge. I felt great during the first mile. After the second mile, the hills really got to me although I kept trying to pass runners up. At the end I had a strong kick and passed up four to five runners. I felt satisfied but not happy with my performance because I wanted to accomplish my goal of becoming an All-American,” Stefaniak said. “The positive thing I got out of my race is that I passed the girl who defeated me from regionals.”
As for Dimizas, he must say goodbye to Stefaniak and the three Cyclone men who also competed at nationals. “The times were historically slow for the whole field in both races due to the strong winds and challenging course, but that’s why we look at place over time when it comes to cross country,” he said. “I think this trip was more emotional for me because four of the six qualifiers won’t be back next year, and I’ve spent more time with that group than any other I’ve coached before. We’ve gotten to know each other very well over the past two seasons, which makes me even more proud of their accomplishments but also sad that this was our last race together. I’m happy with how everyone performed and how they ended their season.”