Cross Country Clinches Spot in National Meet / Jace Aymond
On a wet day in Saint Leo, Florida, the Mississippi College men’s and women’s cross country teams competed at the Division II South Regional Meet on Nov. 6. Their season, much like the courses they compete on, was full of inclines and downhill stretches.
The women came out on top their first two meets and had a strong finish at a loaded Missouri Southern race. However, they slowed down slightly at back-to-back Division I meets. Their last stretch saw major success, finishing first at the Watson Invitational and runner-up in the conference championships to secure a spot in the regional meet. The men stayed consistent almost season-round as they won their opening two meets while placing in the top 8 in their next meets, which were full of loaded rosters. The Gulf South Conference meet saw the Choctaws take the bronze medal behind Alabama-Huntsville and Lee.
Jazmin Hernandez, who led MC to the women’s first nationals appearance in school history, placed 6th individually with her 6K time of 22:27. Josie Whipp placed 14th with Madeline Campbell in 18th, securing the trio All-Region honors. For the men, Hunter Kurz led the way for the Choctaws with his 10K time of 32:22, which yielded a 9th place finish. Other MC men to receive All-Region honors were Christian Balcer, Gabe Poulin, and Brock Kelly, who took the 13th, 21st, and 24th spots respectively.
Kurz vividly remembered how tight the results were, and when “we saw that we got third and we’re going to go to Nationals, we cried. It was a really emotional moment, and I was so excited when I found out. It was almost like a dream come true in a sense.”
For Hernandez, she’s extremely proud of what the program accomplished, and even though “I don’t really know what the game plan is for nationals, but honestly just having the opportunity to run with the girls is just incredible. I know we’re supposed to do our best and not let our guard down, but it’s just a great opportunity and not a lot of people can say they ran at nationals.”
Kurz and Hernandez each share the trait of having transferred to Mississippi College from other universities. Kurz, who originally ran at Kentucky-Wesleyan, noticed the positive differences in coming to MC, saying, “The team dynamic at Wesleyan was much different and there’s not as much talent there as there is here. Having a team to train with here has made a world of a difference. The team culture is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I mean we hang out a lot.”
Before dominating the courses she ran on here at MC, Hernandez was at Angelo State University. Like Kurz, she also is grateful for becoming a Choctaw and the team’s bond, saying, “The program I was at was so different. We just put so much work into this program here at MC and finally seeing the results that we wanted was great. We really are one big family and that’s what I really like about our team is that we’re really close.”
The Division II National Championship meet took place on Nov. 20 for both the men and women at the same course as the South Regional meet. Undoubtedly, it would give those who ran in that regional meet an advantage, which includes the Choctaws.
“We already know the course a little bit,” said Hernandez. “Not every region gets to do their own course somewhere else. We feel good about it and know what to expect now. Hopefully, it won’t be as muddy. Without that, we’ll do a lot better this time.”
“Coach Reneker gave us a race plan going into Regionals,” added Kurz. “And the plan isn’t going to change that much. There are parts that Coach really wants us to focus on, like not dying on those hills is going to be pretty important. It’s going to be a bit different because some of the best teams in the nation are going to be there so it’s going to go out fast. So the fact that it’s at the same place as regionals does make me think we have a little bit of an advantage.”
No matter what the final results say at the national meet in Florida, Hernandez, Kurz, and the rest of the MC cross country teams have had an incredible season, one that forever will go down in the program’s history.