Hayden Park isn’t known to be an easy course. Running in freezing temperatures and light snow certainly doesn’t make it any easier, but that didn’t faze Hillsdale Chargers at the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional on Nov. 17.
Hillsdale went into the race ranked fourth in the region, but battled to take second place with 104 points, qualifying the team for the NCAA Division II national meet. Regional favorite Grand Valley State University earned first place with 26 points. Michigan Tech University took third place with 116 and G-MAC rival Walsh University came in fourth place with 117.
Junior Arena Lewis had a great day, finishing first for Hillsdale and fifth overall. Her performance of 21 minutes and 41.3 seconds was a new personal-best. She also earned her second G-MAC women’s cross country Athlete of the Week award.
Sophomore Lauren Peterson also earned a personal best, beating her old record by 40 seconds. She was the fifth Charger to cross the finish line, coming in 42nd overall with a time of 23:09.8.
Filling in the gap between Lewis and Peterson were sophomores Maryssa Depies and Christina Sawyer and senior Ally Eads. These three Chargers all finished within seven seconds of each other, which is the narrowest gap they’ve had all season. This was a key factor in clinching a place in the national meet. Eads has qualified for nationals in all four of her cross country seasons.
“Every year has been really different. This year is a cool year because we have a few girls going to nationals for the first time and we have a pretty young team as the majority of the girls racing are underclassmen,” Eads said. “We’ve had some highs and lows this season but we showed who we really are at regionals and we’re really excited for nationals.”
Depies finished 14th overall in 22:13.9. Eads came in 19th with a time of 22:20.1. Sawyer finished in 22:27.5 to take 24th. Each Charger finished ahead of a Walsh runner as well, securing their second place finish.
“I think I had my best race of the year on a pretty difficult course,” Sawyer said. “I at least put it all out there and I’m hoping to improve at nationals. As a team I’m super proud. We laid everything out there and basically were able to get every position ahead of every single one of Walsh’s. Everyone worked really hard.”
Rounding out the Chargers were junior Kate Vanderstelt and sophomore Megan Poole. The two took 91st and 93rd, respectively. Vanderstelt finished in 24:07.3 and Poole was right behind in 24:09.1.
The Chargers leave on Wednesday for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to compete in the national meet on Saturday in Schenley Park. The race begins at 12:15 p.m. Five of the seven Chargers going were on last year’s national-qualifying team, which means this year the girls will have more experience and a better opportunity to compete.
“It feels good to know what to expect. Last year I didn’t know and it was kind of like chaos,” Depies said. “It’s a lot of pack running in a field with a people who are just as good and better. But at the same time it’s just a race. So you just go out and figure out what to do when the gun goes off.”