Sports

Saint Leo Hosts National Championships

On Nov. 19, cross country teams from all around the nation will visit Saint Leo to participate in the NCAA Division II National Cross Country Championships. For the first time in the school’s history, Saint Leo University will host national championships. Both Men’s and Women’s Saint Leo Cross Country teams qualified for the event, and the will participate in the competition held at the Abbey Golf Course.

Nearly 450 athletes from 64 different teams will take part in the championships. After completing the Regional Championships on Nov. 5 in different parts of the country, the list of teams that qualified for the National Championships has been announced.

Both Men’s and Women’s Saint Leo Cross Country teams are included on the list as both of the teams placed second during the NCAA Division II South Region Cross Country Championships. For the men, it is the fourth consecutive appearance in the national championships, which also marks the fourth time in the team’s history.  For the women, the situation is fairly similar. However, the Lions take part in the event for the third consecutive time.

In 2015, while the championships were held in Joplin, Mo., the men managed to place their five top runners in the top 200, which allowed them to earn the 28th spot on the scoreboard. The Lion’s top finisher was a graduate, Valentin Lenz, who finished the race as 79th. The women finished the competition just one spot higher than the men, and their score allowed them to be 27th.

Nevertheless, the women’s top finisher, Junior Colett Rampf, managed to finish the race as 23rd, which gave her the All-American recognition which was the first such honor in the team’s history. This year, Rampf won the Regional Championships for the second consecutive time, and she will come back to action on Nov. 19 to pursue the national championship.

“We expect the team to perform even better than they did at Regionals. We are looking for a top 20 finish on both sides, as well as a few individual top finishes. We’re hopeful now that the team has raced the course twice, in addition to countless workouts on the Abbey that they are prepared to perform their best and have an advantage over the competition,” said Graduate Assistant Coach for both Men’s and Women’s Saint Leo Cross Country teams, Katie Henriksen.

The distances for both men and women will be the same as they were during the regional championships. While the men will run 10K, the women will compete on a course that is 6K long. The teams will run the same course on which the championships were held on Nov. 5.

However, even though the course does not have to be changed, hosting national championships might still be much more challenging than hosting regional championships as the size of bot of the events is incomparably different. From accommodating people from all around the country in hotels to providing parking spaces during the event, as well as providing a safe environment for the athletes and the spectators, hosting nationals is a logistical and physical challenge for both Saint Leo University and the NCAA.

“Preparing the course and coordinating all the people involved in such an event will be the hardest part. We have the goal to make this the best National Championship race in Division Two, so living up to that high expectation will be challenging, though possible,” said Henriksen.

Nevertheless, being able to host such an event is an honor, as well as an opportunity for Saint Leo University. Not only can it help the school to gain more nationwide recognition, but it might also bring positive consequences in regards to the Cross Country and Track recruiting process in the future.

“I do believe that hosting such an event will play to our advantage in gaining recognition and in recruiting. When recruits gain knowledge that we hosted Nationals, hopefully they will associate that with a championship program. We also have a couple recruits coming to watch Nationals, so they will be able to see the team in action defending their home course,” added Henriksen.

Also, in the statement on the Championships official website the Director of Athletics at Saint Leo University, Francis X. Reidy indicated: “Our goal is to create a championship experience like none other – one filled with memories that you will keep for years to come. All of us within Saint Leo Athletics stand ready to fulfill this pledge,” according to diicrosscountry.com

The fact that Saint Leo hosts the event this year might also help the Saint Leo teams perform better. Not only the Lions have had a chance to practice on the Abbey course more than any other team in the country, but also as members of the South Region, they tested it while racing.

Home course advantage along with the potential support of people from the Saint Leo local community might help the runners to run faster. Nonetheless, neither the Saint Leo men nor the women are ranked as the top 25 in the country after the women were dropped out of the list in the most recent rankings. However, the rankings indicate who might be potential favorites.

The rankings indicate that the results in regards to the top finishers might be similar to those from 2015 when Colorado Mines won on the men’s side while Adams State won on the women’s side.

“Colorado Mines, Grand Valley, and Adams State are looking like the top teams on the men’s side. On the women’s side, Adams State, Grand Valley, and U-Mary look like the top teams,” said Henriksen.

The men’s race will start at 8:30 am while the women will begin their competition at 9:45 am. Stay tuned to the Lions’ Pride Newspaper as more information about the championships will be available.

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