At the end of the 2010 season, the Baker University men’s cross country team set a goal to win the Heart of America Athletic Conference Championship and to compete at the NAIA National Championships in Vancouver, Wash.
After winning the conference title Nov. 5, the team had its eye set on placing in the top 25 at nationals.
The team accomplished that goal as well Nov.19 when they claimed the final spot in the top 25 during the men’s 8k race.
Junior Aaron Caldwell led the team once again with a 128th place finish and a time of 25:59 in the men’s 8k. Junior Corey Clark ran a 26:05 and placed 141st. Junior Eric Larson rounded out the top 200 with a time of 26:32.
“You set the goal a year ago and you want to compete at the national level and do well,” Clark said. “When it all comes together, and we all stick in there and our team does what we want to do, it’s a really good feeling.”
Head coach Zach Kindler said the team set out just to do the best that they could at nationals, however he was confident all season the ‘Cats were a top 25 caliber team.
“Finishing in the top 25 wasn’t a surprise to me,” Kindler said. “But it was very exciting to see the guys finish that high.”
While the Wildcats placed 25th at the national meet, they were ranked No. 24 in the final NAIA rankings.
Clark said it was exciting to go to nationals and compete against some of the best runners in the nation.
“Every step you’re competing against 20 people and so you keep going,” Clark said. “It’s really fun to have that kind of competition.”
Sophomores Ashley McBride and Lauren Jaqua represented the women’s team after earning national qualifying times at the HAAC Championship meet.
Jaqua placed 88th in the women’s 5k with a time of 19:21 and McBride placed 192nd with a time of 20:02.
McBride said muddy course conditions and competing against more than 300 runners made the meet difficult, but she was happy with the end result.
“I seriously felt like I was fighting the whole time (and) just (managed) to get to the finish line,” McBride said. “I felt like I had run a good race. I saw Lauren at the finish. We were happy and everything, then we found out our times, and our times were not great at all. But I’m still happy with my race because I don’t think I could have done any better.”
McBride has attended nationals during her first two years at Baker and said she is “the luckiest one alive” because of the opportunity.
“I definitely have gotten so many opportunities in my life, and (I’m) so blessed and glad to be here,” McBride said.
Both men’s and women’s teams will cap the season off with a trip to Panama City Beach, Fla. where they will compete in the Run for the Redfish half marathon Saturday.