Senior Molly Oren and junior Hannah McIntyre earned All-American honors for the third year in a row, and junior Tony Wondaal earned his first individual All-American honor last month at the 2016 NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships.
The men placed 14th and the women 17th in the first NCAA championship both teams have gone to together, since 2000.
The national championship race was Oren’s fourth in four years, making her the first Hillsdale athlete to never miss a national cross country meet in the school’s NCAA era. Although Oren said she doesn’t dwell on her achievement, she said she thought about how she was running her last cross country race while she was racing it.
“Before the race Hannah was saying the team prayer, and she said something like it was Meri Didier’s and my last race, and I was like, ‘Oh gosh,’” Oren said. “Then, during the race, I would think to myself, ‘Molly, this is your last race, you’ve got to get All-American,’ especially when it was really hard.”
Oren said the fact that her collegiate cross country career is over hasn’t set in yet and that the emotion of everything coming to an end probably won’t hit her until the end of her outdoor track season.
“I’m sad, but I’m happy because it was a really good career,” Oren said. “I’m thankful for the coaches and all of my teammates.”
On the men’s side, the Nov. 19 race was also the last collegiate cross country competition for seniors Joe Newcomb, Caleb Gatchell, and Luke Daigneault.
Head coach Andrew Towne said he thought the national meet went really well.
“The first time you’re there, I mean you can prepare for it and try to be ready for it as much as possible, but until you’re there it’s just different,” Towne said of the men. “There’s always things that you wish could have been a little bit better, but then there’s always things that you didn’t expect that went really well too.”
After not getting off the starting line fast enough and being “buried” at the line, the men battled throughout the race, with members of the team gaining anywhere from 40 to 132 places throughout the race.
The men’s 10K course consisted of three loops, with each including a large hill at the beginning and a lot of turns throughout. Wondaal said the course was tough, but also that the race was his best performance of the season.
“The race went out really fast and I had to tell myself ‘don’t panic, these guys who are still ahead of you are even more tired at halfway,’” Wondaal said. “I slowed down 20 or 30 seconds in my last 5K, but I still caught 30 places.”
Newcomb, Gatchell, sophomore Nick Fiene, and Daigneault rounded out the team’s top five. Possibly due to the difference in terrain of the two courses, the men’s average time was 46 seconds slower than their time two weeks earlier at the regional meet.
Towne also said he was happy with the women’s performance.
“It was obvious we didn’t have the depth that we’ve had in years past, we’re still very quality oriented,” he said. “There’s nothing this team could do about that. I thought they competed really well.”
Two years ago the women’s team placed second at the national meet, and last year they placed third. This season they struggled with injuries — including an injury to freshman Arena Lewis who was expected to compete in the team’s top three — and only had seven runners available to race in the national meet.
Towne said he believes with continued development of the team’s non-seniors, as well as next year’s recruiting class, the women’s team could be “markedly better” next year.
The women’s 6K course consisted of a 4K loop and a 2K loop, each with a large hill at the beginning. Like Oren and Wondaal, McIntyre said that the national course was difficult, but she also said it wasn’t anything the women hadn’t prepared for throughout the season.
“Hillsdale is named Hillsdale for a reason,” McIntyre said.
After McIntyre and Oren, sophomore Ally Eads, junior Amanda Reagle, and freshman Addison Rauch rounded out the team’s top five. Like the men, the women ran slower than they had at the regional meet by about 30 seconds.
While a handful of runners have continued their training to try to run a fast time at one of the early indoor track meets, many of the runners are taking time off from running.
“Whether you’re talking cross country or track, it’s a long year for our kids,” Towne said. “Getting away from some of the high-intensity stuff, some of the race-pace type stuff, some of the actual races, and being able to recharge [is important].”