With beautiful fall weather in Rome, Ga., EMU's cross country teams wrapped up the 2016 season at the South/Southeast Regionals on the campus of Berry College Saturday morning. Both the men and women finished in the upper half of the large field of teams, although no individuals were able to earn a trip to next week's nationals.
After sending seven individuals to the NCAA National Championships over the past three season, this will be the first time since 2012 that the Royals will not send a runner to the final meet, ending an impressive run for Eastern Mennonite.
The highpoint of Saturday's regionals race was Alec Thibodeaux (Mount Sidney, Va./Fort Defiance). While a lingering hip injury sapped his chance at a repeat trip to Nationals, the senior was able to earn All-Region honors for the third straight season. He hung around the lead pack much of the race and settled for 25th place with a time of 26:28.43.
Coach Isaac Bryan said it was a gritty performance for his senior.
"Alec was able to come back after several weeks off and finish 25th," he explained. "I was glad to see him finish all region. He put himself in position to qualify for nationals but just didn't have the fitness he needed to finish."
Freshman Abrham Amine (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) finished up his solid first year by taking 52nd in 27:19.84. He was named ODAC Rookie of the Year as the highest-finishing freshman at the ODAC Championships two weeks ago. Junior Steven Anhold (Churchville, Va./Fort Defiance) was just behind, taking 54th out of the 208 runners in 27:21.32.
Jared Nisly (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite) came in 80th with a time of 27:56.41 and Tyler Denlinger (Perkasie, Pa./Christopher Dock) rounded out the top five in 28:34.31, taking 119th. Ben Stutzman (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite) was 127th in 28:39.68, while Robert Cook (Lexington, Va./Parry McCluer) came in 161st in 29:42.16.
EMU's men totaled 323 points to take 11th out of 29 teams. They edged ahead of Mary Washington by one point, but were also just three points from Birmingham-Southern in 10th. They Royals were fourth of the ODAC teams, with Washington and Lee finishing second to earn a team spot at nationals.
Bryan admitted he was hoping for better results out of his men.
"It's hard to finish the season with unmet goals, but that's the reality of any sport," he said. "We have to be better. The best thing we can do is learn from our mistakes and find our motivation again."
Four of Saturday's seven runners were seniors, and eight total lined the roster this year.
"This group of seniors will be missed," said Bryan. "They have helped change the program. I am glad to have them for one more season of track."
The women finished 10th out of 27 as a team with 322 points. They were just three points ahead of ODAC rival Shenandoah, and were third out of the ODAC schools at the meet.
Sophomore Laurie Serrell (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) was the top finisher for the women, taking 63rd in a time of 24:38.85. Freshman Megan Good (Harrisonburg, Va./Eastern Mennonite) was just steps behind her, earning 66th in 24:43.62. Kat Lehman (Dover, Ohio/Dover) was within eyesight of her teammates, crossing 74th in 24:54.09.
The pack mentality was in full force for the meet, as the top five clocked within 32 seconds of each other. Elizabeth Nisly (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton) was 82nd in 25:05.86, while senior Juni Schirch (Goshen, Ind./Goshen) took 85th out of the 213 runners in 25:10.24.
Emma Hoover (New Carlisle, Ohio/Tecumseh) and Abigail Shelly (Collinsville, Miss./West Lauderdale) rounded out the team of seven, with Hoover crossing 129th in 26:19.64 and Shelly taking 155th in 27:04.47.
"I was hoping for faster times today from our women's team," Bryan said. "We were not able to capitalize on a good day of weather and a fast course. This group has achieved a lot this year, but we just didn't have what we needed today."
Schirch is the only senior on the roster, leaving a full cupboard for 2017.
"We will return all but one runner in this group, and I am looking forward having them back next year and building towards the next level," explained Bryan. "Laurie stepped up today and led our team to a 10th place finish. We've been ranked in the top 10 most of the season, so it was nice to finish that way."