By Calli Townsend
The SC4 women’s cross country team finished fifth out of 16 teams at the NJCAA Division II National meet in Fort Dodge, Iowa on Saturday, Nov. 14.
“I don’t think we would’ve had the meet if it had been one week later,” head cross country coach Craig Dickinson said. “We got really lucky. We were the only sport that had a whole season this year.”
The Skippers were led by sophomore Caitlyn Rogers, a veteran on the national stage. She placed 20th overall with a time of 20:12.7 in the 5k race. Freshman teammate Lily Connelly was right behind, finishing in 20:18.4 to capture 23rd.
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The duo earned All-American honors for finishing in the top 25 in a competitive field of 122 runners. Rogers, who raced in the national meet last fall, improved her time by more than one minute en route to earning her fist All-American title.
“It was definitely a good experience. I never would’ve thought I’d do that, I wasn’t expecting to go that far, but now there’s expectations for the girls coming in,” Rogers said. “It was really cool. I had a lot of competition, I was getting passed and passing other girls throughout the whole race.”
Rogers said this year was different from last year, both in her confidence level and training.
“Normally I’m super nervous, but this year it was always potentially my last race ever, so I was just excited,” she said. “And we were a really strong team and we all ran as a group. It was nice being able to all train together and have that team bond.”
The next pack of Skippers finished within 30 seconds of each other. Freshman Rachel Dusett led the pack to 50th overall, in 21:25. Freshman Alyssa Pollauf took 56th in 21:38.4, Jenna Holzberger finished in 21:42.7 to take 62nd, and sophomore Izabella Gowen took 66th in 21:54.5.
“On the girls side we knew going into the year we had a really good recruiting class and we thought we were going to be pretty good,” Dickinson said. “I looked up the top 10 teams during the season and we were ranked fifth, and we ended up fifth.”
Dickinson said he started following the top teams in the nation throughout the season and to his surprise, the top six teams finished in order of their rankings prior to Saturday’s meet.
“We knew if we ran well we’d have a chance to place well,” he said. “There wasn’t a single meet all year that I didn’t think we didn’t compete to the best of our ability. I told the girls before the meet, ‘You don’t have to do anything different than you’ve done all year,’ and that’s what they did. They ran their hearts out.”
Dickinson, who in his second year as the Skippers’ head coach, credits his team’s character and depth for the season’s success.
“We looked for certain types of kids who competed and were athletes and that’s really just what we wanted,” he said. “We wanted kids who would compete and be good teammates. In recruiting, we want to see how do you race and interact with your coaches and teammates.”
He said he feels that he’s put together a solid team this year, and with five of the top eight runners returning, he’s looking forward to next year. Dickinson said the men’s team is similar in character, but smaller in size.
The men sent two individuals to compete at the national meet as well. Freshman Drew Mayes finished 22nd in 27:04.7 in the 8k race. He earned his first All-American title as well. Fellow freshman Raymond Hill took 63rd in 28:32.2.
“It was special that they did that,” Dickinson said. “We didn’t have the depth to compete at the level we wanted as a team, but I’m pretty confident we’ll have a much different team than this year.”
Normally, the Skippers would start preparing for their indoor track season soon, but for now, they’re taking some time off as Dickinson decides what their next race will look like.
“We’re not going to get many indoor meets, and if there are meets, they’re going to be small,” he said. “We’re going to have some races, but it’s up in the air about what we’re going to have.”
Rogers said she’ll continue to train and prepare for whenever she gets the opportunity to race.
“We definitely went week by week. I had no idea we’d be able to finish the season, and especially now with everything getting shut down again, we’re just really grateful,” she said. “I’m just going to keep running and take it day by day and keep training just in case.”
Photos provided by Mikayla Shell, SC4 Athletic Dept.