By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
At first the scoreboard showed Missouri Southern finished in 13th place, then 14th.
But once everything had been sorted, the Lions wound up eighth in the NCAA Division II men’s cross country championship on Saturday morning at the MSSU course.
The Lions, ranked No. 14 in the latest national poll, had three runners in the top 50 and finished with 308 points. It’s the Lions’ third highest finish in the national meet behind a sixth place in 2000 and seventh place in 2002.
“Top eight at nationals is always a goal,” Lions coach Tom Rutledge said. “We beat a lot of people who beat us at regional. Our top three ran awesome. They PR’d (personal record), every one of them, and then Ryan Jackson PR’d. Ryan ran his best race ever. He cut about a minute and a half off his regional time.”
“I can’t believe it,” sophomore Andrew Webster said. “Snagging that eighth spot really solidifies that we’re one of the best teams in the country.”
Sophomore Eric Schott led the Lions with a 44th-place finish in 30 minutes, 33 seconds over the 10K course, about a minute and a half behind the winner Micah Chelimo of Alaska Anchorage.
Teammates Webster and Adrian Todd, also a sophomore, were 47th and 49th, respectively. Webster ran 30:38, one second ahead of Todd. Junior Jacob Benton was No. 105 (31:34), and Jackson, a freshman, was No. 121 (31:43). Colton Wooldridge (No. 177, 32:24) and Nick Niggemann (No. 230, 33:39) also ran for the Lions.
“It went well, not quite as well as we wanted it to go,” Schott said. “I ran pretty much the exact same time as (two weeks) ago (in the regional meet), and we had two guys packed in who were right there with me whole way.”
“Last night we had Matt Tegenkamp speak at our opening ceremonies,” Webster said. “He said accept the nerves and be patient. In the beginning I was a little bit nervous because we got out not where we usually are. We were behind a lot of people, but we stayed packed up. I really wanted to move up, but I remembered what he was saying. I was patient, and then when Eric and A.J. moved, I moved with them. Any time I really got tired I remembered to stay relaxed, shake it out, loosen up, and it worked for me. I came around the corner and I had a little bit left.”
Missouri Southern’s women had 490 points and tied for 20th place with Cal State Stanislaus in the 32-team field.
“We would have liked to have had a better race,” Lions coach Patty Vavra said. “And at the same time, I told them there is absolutely no reason for them to hang their head. They’ve had an outstanding season (highlighted by MIAA championship).
“We hoped for a little higher finish today. We started out to put ourselves in position but couldn’t finish it. In this race this size and with as many turns as there are on our course, you really have to get out and get position. It’s hard to get through the pack. We did initially, but when it was time to move up, it just didn’t seem like we could make it happen. For a lot of our young ladies, this is their first trip to the national championship. Hopefully we’ll be able to use this to get us into the national meet next year and have a little more idea what to expect.”
Rachel Schrader was the Lions’ top finisher, taking 66th place in 21:48 over the 6K layout.
“It went well. It was good,” said Schrader, a junior. “It was pretty crazy. There were so many girls ... this is the elite, all the best girls in D-2 are here, so it was pretty intense the whole way.
“It is tough mentally once they start pulling away. But at the start it’s great because they kind of take you with them. You have no choice to slow down at the very beginning because they are all right by you.”
Marlee Tegenkamp, the Lions’ first four-time nationals qualifier in cross country, ran 22:09 and placed 91st in her final race. Other MSSU runners were junior Kaitlyn Belisle (No. 126, 22:36), freshman Adelene Mengwesser (No. 146, 22:44), sophomore Lauren Baehr (No. 160, 22:50), senior Cassy Kendrick (No. 191, 23:17) and freshman Jetaime Hovis (No. 225, 24:08).
Fans coming from all over the country and dressed and painted in school colors created an electric atmosphere.
“It was amazing.” Schott said. “Just the energy there, nothing I’ve been through before. The whole race you had people on the sides, screaming and yelling. It was just a really fun atmosphere.”
“Usually you can tell exactly who they are cheering for .. like Pitt State or SBU,” Schrader said. “But all you hear is just a roar. So it’s almost like they are cheering for you, it seems like.
“You work so hard to get here, and you’re with your best friends on the team,” Schrader said. “It’s what you’ve worked for, so you’ll never forget it.”