There may never have been a course more aptly named.
The last time The Master’s University raced at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington, the site proved to be, well, historic.
Mustang senior John Gilbertson raced a tactically perfect race and captured the 2012 NAIA men’s individual national championship.
Saturday, back in rainy Vancouver for the NAIA Cross Country National Championships, the Mustangs will look for more monumental firsts.
The goal: place the men’s and women’s teams in the top four, meaning spots on the podium.
The good news: “Both teams are running really, really strong,” said coach Zach Schroeder. “They’re confident.”
For the men, the race may be more about the start than the finish. Schroeder said he wants his squad to position itself somewhere in the top 40 runners early on.
“We need to get out hard,” he said, pointing to a soggy course that should be slick and packed with 300-plus runners. Falling behind early could spell a difficult, if not impossible, climb.
The Mustangs don’t necessarily have a runner of Gilbertson’s caliber – at least not yet – so depth will be key to unlocking a spot on the podium.
The team had no All-Americans (top-30 finishers at nationals) last season when it finished fifth overall, a program best. Schroeder believes his top five runners this season each have a shot at the honor.
Three different Mustangs have posted the team’s best time at a meet this year. Freshman Wes Methum crossed first at the opening two meets, then Skyler Mikesell led the way in the next two. Stephen Pacheco finished second overall at this month’s Golden State Athletic Conference championship, where Master’s claimed its eighth straight conference title.
Even still, for one reason or another, the Mustangs haven’t raced at full strength yet this year. That will change Saturday.
“With what I’m seeing in practice right now, I think it’s going to be a very exciting championship,” Schroeder said.
For the women, Abigail Frankian (pictured above) figures to be near the front of the pack – the entire pack. The senior leads a trio of Mustangs who finished one, two, three at the GSAC Championships earlier this month, when Master’s won the first title in program history.
Mikala Fairchild and Rachelle Nelson were the other two, and they should challenge for All-American honors Saturday. Then there’s Rylee Bishop and Ariana Sciarra, who will be key to the Mustangs’ team score.
“If they have a great final race,” Schroeder said of Bishop and Sciarra, “then the women also have a chance at making it on the podium.”
The women enter Saturday ranked eighth in the country. Schroeder believes that’s a tad low.
“Our women are running fantastic here at the end,” he said.
The men are ranked 10th, with aspirations to climb.
The men’s 8K race starts at 10:30 a.m. PST. The women’s 5K goes at 11:30.
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