EMU's cross country teams gave fantastic efforts at Saturday's ODAC Championships, highlighted by a runner-up finish from first-time runner Michaela Mast (Broadway, Va./Eastern Mennonite). The Royals women earned third place as a team in a very competitive field, while the young men's squad made a strong finish as well.
Interim coach Hannah Chappell-Dick could tell her runners were going to have a good day.
"Morale was high today," she explained. "It was a flat and fast course and the teams hadn't raced in a few weeks; they were fresh off a time trial, raring to go. Across the board we had strong performances."
Mast was the surprise of the meet. In her first season as a cross country runner, the senior got out with the lead pack and was still with top dogs Marissa Coombs (Virginia Wesleyan) and Kirsten McMichael (Washington and Lee) midway through the two-lap course. With Coombs maintaining a two-step lead over the other two, Mast made her move to get in front of McMichael and nearly caught Coombs. A track All-American in the mile and 1500m events, Coombs had the stamina to pull away from Mast late, but EMU's runner likewise held off McMichael.
Mast crossed the 6k finish line second overall in a time of 22:12.76, smashing her PR by nearly a full minute. Coombs won the event in 22:01.24, while McMichael was four seconds behind Mast at 22:16.79.
Sophomore Megan Good (Harrisonburg, Va./Eastern Mennonite) had just as good of a race and edged out a Shenandoah runner at the finish line by one-hundredth of a second. Good destroyed her PR with a time of 22:39.49 to take 11th place out of the 94 runners, earning her second straight All-ODAC Second Team honor. Her previous best on a 6k course was a 24:17.6.
Elizabeth Nisly (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton) also had a massive PR on the flat course and just missed All-ODAC status. She finished 16th in 22:50.17, with the top 14 making All-ODAC. Junior Laurie Serrell (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) came in 26th at 23:36.10 and Kat Lehman (Dover, Ohio/Dover) came across 31st in 24:11.54 to round out the top five. Abigail Shelly (Collinsville, Miss./West Lauderdale) was one spot behind in 24:16.04 while Emma Hoover (New Carlisle, Ohio/Tecumseh) took 56th in 26:03.05.
Senior Jessica Longenecker (Fredericksburg, Va./Courtland) ran her first race in two years, crossing in 30:20.23.
Chappell-Dick thought all of her runners had great efforts.
"Michaela took ODACs by storm finishing a surprise second," she said, "but not to be out-done, Megan and Elizabeth smashed their old PRs in gutsy performances. Abigail had another good breakthrough, coming close to our fourth and fifth finishers. Today was a best-case scenario, everyone ran to their potential, and are feeling fresh for regionals."
EMU's coach made a point to single out one of her women as an inspiration to her team.
"Senior Jess Longenecker completed her last race for the Royals after a grueling recovery from Achilles surgery."
As a team, Eastern Mennonite's women scored 85 points to take third, easily clearing Bridgewater (114), a team ahead of them in the South/Southeast Regional Rankings. In no surprise, Washington and Lee ran away with the team title at 34 points, while Lynchburg was second with 74.
While the men's side did not have any All-ODAC honorees, the Royals had their fair share of big performances.
"Notably, freshman Justice Allen (Waynesboro, Va./Waynesboro) who broke the 28-minute barrier for the first time," explained Chappell-Dick, "and Calin Boeckman (Staunton, Va./Fort Defiance) who broke the 30-minute barrier."
Allen was nearly a minute better than his previous best in an 8k race, clocking at 27:39.99 to take 43rd. Sophomore Diego Avila (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) was 47th in 28:32.25.
Derrick Chirinos (Harrisonburg, Va./Harrisonburg) continued the pattern of well-space Royals runners, crossing 54th in 29:29.63. Boeckman just edged 30 minutes at 29:58.83. Collin Longenecker (Harrisonburg, Va./Turner Ashby) pushed through an injury to a time of 30:18.32, while recent transfer Bahman Shahi (Harrisonburg, Va.) finished his first race in 33:48.53.
The Royals were 10th with 255 points, but just a handful of positions away from Hampden-Sydney (253) and Guilford (250).
"The men were five points away from eighth place, which gives us a good target to shoot for at Regionals," said Chappell-Dick.
Washington and Lee also won the men's team title, combining for 27 points. Bridgewater's Robert Hiegel won the race by more than 31 seconds in the time of 24:35.40.
The teams now have an off-weekend before the S/SE Regional Championships, which are Nov. 11 and hosted by Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.
Putting another stamp on her incredible season, Michaela Mast was named both the Rookie of the Meet and the ODAC/Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete. Despite being an academic senior, with Mast being in her first year of cross country she was eligible for the rookie award. In the classroom, she carries a 4.0 GPA as a psychology major. Mast also holds minors in neuroscience, music and honors. She was a two-time ODAC Runner of the Week this fall with two wins and one runner-up finish in four pre-ODAC meets. She sings in EMU's Emulate ensemble and is a member of both the Sustainable Food Initiative and Coalition for Climate Justice on campus.