On Oct. 24 in Lakeland Fla., the Saint Leo Men’s and Women’s Cross Country teams participated in the 25th Sunshine State Conference Championships. While the Women’s team finished in second place, one of the team’s members won the individual title. The Men managed to win the competition and place three runners in the top three.
For the first time in the University’s history, the Lions have a team that won the Sunshine State Conference Championships for two consecutive years. Similarly to last year’s competition, the Men’s Cross Country team won the championships. Nova Southeastern University followed the Lions finishing in second place, and Florida Southern College was third.
Not only did the Lions win the team title, but three individuals finished the race in the top three. As a member of the team, I had the pleasure to participate in the race finishing in second place right behind the 2015 SSC individual champion Valentin Lenz, Senior, and ahead of Niclas Bez, Junior.
In regards to the Men, most of the races in the cross-country season are 8K long. The championships course had the same distance, and it included two loops, 5K and 3K respectively. Since the finish time does not affect the runners’ scores in any way, usually, the championships’ races are very tactical.
The Oct. 24 race had all the features of a typical championships’ race. As usual, during the first part of the race, none of the runners decided to take a lead. The raced was paced relatively slow, and it was not clear who would be the winner.
The real competition began after the first loop. At this point, the runners decided to pick up the pace, and the leading group started to break away.
“The tactic for the race was to stay with the group on the first loop, and start working hard in the second part of the race. The team has done exactly what they were told, and it worked great,” said, Kent Reiber, the Men’s Cross Country head coach.
While it was clear that the first, as well as second place, would be taken by the Lions, the battle for the third spot was held until the last meters. Bez took advantage of his experience as a middle distance runner, and he presented the best of his abilities at the finish. As a result, Bez managed to win the battle and finish the race as the third best runner.
The individual champion, Lenz, won the competition with a lead of 12 seconds. It is Lenz’s first ever individual title after finishing second in the championships in 2014 as well as in 2015. Lenz helped the Lions to have a third individual Sunshine State Conference champion for a third consecutive year.
The Lions scored 28 points, and besides the top three, the list of scoring runners include Sophomore Anthony Deleva, who was 10th, and Senior Carl Dunne, who finished the race in 12th place. The Lions were 10 points ahead of the second team.
The Women’s Cross Country Championships began few minutes after the Men finished their competition. The Lions finished the race in a second place scoring 39 points. University of Tampa won the competition with a score of 28 while Florida Tech was third with a score of 100 points.
Despite losing the team title by 11 points, the Lions’ Women’s top runner, Sophomore Colett Rampf from Germany, defended her individual title from last year.
The Women’s race was a 6K, which is a usual distance, and the runners had to go through two 3K loops. The runner’s tactics were very similar to those in the Men’s race. Similarly, it started relatively slow, and the Women began to speed up while they reached the second loop.
Nevertheless, Rampf was part of the lead group throughout the whole distance. The whole time, she controlled the pace, and she decided to attack in the second part of the race. As a result, Rampf dominated the competition, crossing the finish line with a 38 second lead ahead of the second finisher and 52 seconds over the third.
Two other Saint Leo University Women managed to finish the championships in the top ten. Freshman Alyssa Bayliff crossed the finish line as a fourth best runner while fellow freshman Lora Tobin of Ireland, was ninth overall.
Another two Saint Leo University runners whose score counted towards the final result are Sophomore Kari Grippo, and Junior Natali McCormick, Canada. While Grippo missed the top ten by just one place, McCormick finished the race fourteenth.
The winning team, University of Tampa, placed five runners in the top ten. By winning the Championships, the Tampa women collected the 13th team title for the institution. Nevertheless, the Lions very close to defeating them and, in fact, the battle for the title was held mostly between the two teams.
“It is still possible to beat Tampa, and we might be able to do it in a bigger race such as Regionals. We are looking forward to the next two weeks. We know that some work still has to be done, but we also know that the girls have not shown all their abilities yet,” said Reiber.