COLUMBIA — In just their second year as a program, the runners of the Columbia College cross country team have achieved national recognition.
The team has already earned multiple honors. The women, currently ranked 19th in the NAIA, are lead by sophomore Lindsey Martin, who boasts top five finishes in every race this season, including a first place finish at the Southern Stampede in Joplin. Martin has also been named American Midwest Conference Runner of the Week twice, as well as NAIA Runner of the Week.
But coach Tim Cornell and the team would prefer not to dwell on these achievements.
"Obviously the accolades are nice but we have our own expectations of where we want to be," Cornell said. "Most of them are not performance goals, they are goals we want to achieve every single day. What we are doing every single day is more important to me and to the team than where we end up in the national rankings."
Sophomore Michael McCulloch has also been named AMC Runner of the Week and sophomore Emily Shultz, freshmen Riley Fader and Maggie Noble have earned top ten finishes in all of their races this season.
In the Oct. 8 NAIA rankings poll, the men's team came in second in the AMC behind Park University (Kansas City). The women are ranked first in the AMC and jumped up two spots in the coaches poll to a No. 19 ranking.
With a national ranking the team can most likely look forward to competing in the NAIA Cross Country Championships held at the end of November. Although a ranking does not guarantee a spot at the championships, Cornell said a ranking is a good indication. 31 teams are invited to the race, 25 of which are ranked along with six that receive an invitation.
On Saturday, Columbia College will compete at Pre-Nationals in Lawrence, Kan. The course will be the same as the National race and will give the team a chance to test themselves against several of the teams who will appear later in November.
Martin, the top runner on the girls side, has proven her ability to compete along with the best runners in the NAIA.
Martin completed the first race — the Washington University Early Bird 4k — with a time of 14 minutes 58 seconds, just shy of a six-minute mile. Two weeks later Martin improved her 4k time to 14:47, placing second overall in the Central Missouri Mule Run. In her last competition, a 5k, Martin placed first with a time of 18:01. Cornell said that a time under 18:30 is grounds to be an All-American.
The focuses for this weekend are competing in top form and and staying healthy. Thursday's practice had the athletes running at "race pace" in order to develop muscle memory. At the end of the season, Cornell said the only thing that matters is that the team competes and they grow from the experience.
"At the end of the year cross country is great because we get to all run against each other," Cornell said. "There is no use of the correlative theory. Its just 'Hey, we all raced, this is what happened and we were better than you on this day.'"