The Hillsdale College Chargers won the G‑MAC Cross Country Championship meet, beating last year’s champion Walsh University, by a mere three points, in Pepper Pike, Ohio, on Saturday.
With only a three point difference between first and second, each Charger’s place played a crucial role in the victory, and many of them stepped up in huge ways, earning even bigger personal records.
The Chargers went into Saturday’s 6k race ranked 10th in the nation and were the chosen favorites, but Walsh wasn’t far behind in the regional rankings and had the confidence of last year’s victory as an advantage. But the Chargers proved why they were ranked No. 10. While Hillsdale had 43 points and Walsh had 46, Cedarville University took third with 74.
“The victory definitely was sweet, especially with not having the trophy go home with us last year, so to go and reclaim that was special,” assistant coach R.P. White said. “But I think even more so just the way that they approached the race, they just went out and were dominant from the get go.”
Senior Arena Lewis and junior Maryssa Depies led the way for the Chargers, taking second and third, respectively. They each earned personal records and a spot on the All-Conference First Team. Lewis and Depies worked together throughout the race, finishing the same way in 20:55.3 and 20:55.7.
“We knew there were going to be lots of good teams so you can’t discount anybody because there’s always somebody who sneaks in there,” Lewis said. “We were just trying to go out there and do what we could for each other, and do what we could individually as a team to get points.”
Sophomore Sophia Maeda is as strong as ever as she shaved four minutes off of her time from last year’s conference meet. She finished ninth to earn a spot on the All-Conference Second team with a time of 21:18.3.
Saturday was freshman Gwynne Riley’s second time ever running a 6k and she shocked everyone with a 12th-place finish in 21:30.7, improving by nearly three minutes. Her best 6k time from earlier this season was 24:23.5.
“People who weren’t normally up top filled in some spots and did amazing,” Lewis said.”That’s why our team is amazing because we have people who step up when other people are having bad days.”
White said the way the team stepped up during the race really made the difference in order to get the win.
“That’s exactly what we needed to finish that day off,” White said. “Some people had off days and it might not reflect that from a time standpoint, but we needed those people to come in and step up at the right time and they did it at the right time. With Gwynne, the sky’s the limit for her and for the other girls who had those big breakthroughs.”
Junior Christina Sawyer and sophomore Claire McNally put together a great pair of races as well, holding off three Cedarville runners to help secure Hillsdale’s victory. Sawyer took 17th in 21:53.3 while McNally followed right behind in 18th in 21:53.9.
Seniors Kate Vanderstelt and Addison Rauch have both had their best seasons yet, a trend that continued on Saturday as they both ran their best 6k times to finish 21st and 25th, respectively. Vanderstelt finished in 22:01.5 and Rauch in 22:10.6. This was Rauch’s best time since 2016, and Vanderstelt’s first time ever breaking into the 22-minute range.
“We were really just focused on each other and doing everything we could to sacrifice what we could for each other,” Vanderstelt said. “I think that was very apparent out there which is cool.”
Freshman Meg Scheske followed right behind Rauch, taking 26th in 22:10.8, while sophomore Amber Mango took 45th in 22:57.4. Both of these times were personal bests for the seasons.
Head coach for the Hillsdale track and field and cross country programs Andrew Towne earned the Great Midwest Coach of the Year as a result of Saturday’s victory.
The Chargers are ranked second in the Midwest Region behind Grand Valley State University. Walsh moved up to third after Saturday’s race. Hiillsdale will continue to train this week and prepare for the regional meet on Nov. 9 in Evansville, Indiana.
“We just want to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing all season. I think we’re making really good steps forward but we’re not changing anything.”