By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Missouri Southern’s cross country teams will not be working at the Division II championship meet in two weeks because both will be running.
The Lions men, disappointed by their third-place finish in the MIAA meet two weeks earlier, finished second in the Central Regional meet Saturday morning on the MSSU course.
“They did what they were told,” Lions coach Tom Rutledge said. “I told them I’m not working a national championship and not have a team in it, so you (guys) better run.”
Next, Missouri Southern’s women, who won the MIAA, provided anxious moments down the stretch but qualified for nationals with a fourth-place finish. The Lions were two points ahead of Pittsburg State, who also qualified.
“Close? Yes. Unnerving? Yes,” Lions coach Patty Vavra said. “But today was being about being in the top five teams and getting to that national meet.”
“It’s such a relief,” said Lions junior Rachel Schrader, who was 11th. “Especially since (the national meet) is here. It would be terrible to work a meet that you’re not running in. It just makes it that much sweeter, and with all the other athletes here on all-athlete day, that’s always gives us a little extra fire.”
Augustana (S.D.) dominated both races by placing five runners among the top 12. The Vikings scored 31 points and won the men’s race by 67 points, and they had 29 points and won by 79 in the women’s race. The Vikings also swept the individual top honors — Travis Beniak in the men’s 10K in 29 minutes, 57 seconds and Runa Falch in the women’s 6K in 20:39.
“We feel good about our performances, both men and women,” Augustana coach Tracy Hellman said. “We had some good things happen obviously, but there is still room for improvement. That’s really exciting. We obviously want to end our best in two weeks back here, but we think it gives us an advantage being on the course already and knowing what it’s like.”
Sophomore Eric Schott led the Lions with a fifth-place finish in 30:27. Teammates Jacob Benton (13th) and Adrian Todd (19th) also earned all-region honors.
“This is what we trained for all year,” Schott said. “It just feels great right now.
“We wanted to go out as a team and really push that first mile, kind of establish being up front and try to break a lot of those people early on. As it went on, we kind of faded a little bit as a pack, but we still stayed together pretty well.”
“Naturally running on our course is a great advantage, but we also had our backs against the wall,” Rutledge said. “We had a bad race at conference, and this was something to redeem ourselves.
“This is what it’s all about, and it’s awesome. If you can’t handle pressure, go play tiddlywinks or marbles ... pick another sport. That’s why you play the game. You have to be able to adapt to the pressure and handle it. We didn’t handle it as good as we should have at conference. Today they did what they were supposed to do.”
The Lions’ women also had three all-region honorees — Schrader in 11th place, Marlee Tegenkamp in 18th place and Kaitlyn Belisle in 21st.
“I think it went really well,” said Schrader, a junior. “I started off quick like I always do, and as the first two (runners) were pulling away, I started to fall back. And then Marlee came up by me and said ‘let’s go together.’ So we worked it for the rest of the race. She helped me through it. We couldn’t do it without each other. It’s hard running by yourself.”
“Some of the positives of the team is the fact that we had a couple who didn’t have their best race today, but a couple of others stepped up and did,” Vavra said. “That made all the difference today. ... Marlee Tegenkamp had a great race. She’s finally getting back in shape ... and she ran more like herself that we remember (from previous years). Addie Mengwasser stepped up and took the fifth spot today. And, of course, Rachel Schrader has run consistent all year long.”
Pittsburg State’s performance in a pack produced the Gorillas’ national meet berth. Kaley Temaat was 26th for PSU’s highest finish, but four teammates followed her across the finish line within 16 places and 20 seconds.
“We didn’t have anybody up front,” Gorillas coach Russ Jewett said. “It’s so hard to qualify to nationals without anything like a front-runner. We didn’t have anybody remotely near the front, but we had a really strong five together. You look at how our team raced, we had a different leader three or four different times, we had a different No. 5 three or four different times. It’s such a unified group ... a lot of parity there, and they all want to help each other out. That was our strength really.”