November 18, 2017
On a day The Master’s University men’s and women’s cross country teams were looking for podium finishes, they were ultimately left with silver linings.
“Today we beat Westmont,” coach Zach Schroeder said of his men’s team. “If you’re looking for a silver lining, maybe that’s it: We come back as the top California team. But we would have liked to have performed better nationally.”
The Mustang men finished 19th at Saturday’s NAIA Cross Country National Championships. TMU’s women’s team, in a closer-to-expected performance, took 12th behind Mikala Fairchild’s 24th-place finish.
Fairchild, Abigail Frankian and Skyler Mikesell each earned All-American (top 30) honors for the Mustangs, who came to Vancouver, Washington, with hopes of unprecedented glory.
The men’s team finished a program-best fifth at nationals a year ago. And after winning an eighth straight Golden State Athletic Conference crown earlier this month, it felt as if it could ride its depth to a top-four finish.
Instead, Mikesell (26th)was the only Mustang in the top 100. Schroeder said before the event that it’d be important to start fast. When the field features 300-pus athletes, it can be hard, if not impossible, to make a major climb from the back of the pack.
TMU’s men did not start well.
“They got stuck pretty far back and weren’t able to overcome it,” Schroeder said.
Frankian, on the other hand, stayed in the top 15 early. Then she fell, literally. She got knocked down as she tried to clamber to her feet and dropped back to around 35th.
Still, she rallied to finish 29th in 18 minutes, four seconds.
“It was a little bit of a heroic effort,” Schroeder said.
All Season, Frankian and Fairchild have led the women’s team, which claimed its first-ever GSAC title on Nov. 4. Saturday the seniors matched a program best for All-Americans in a single year.
Fairchild finished in 18:03.
Freshman Rachelle Nelson was next in 54th place with a time of 18:35.
“I’m really excited about her,” Schroeder said of Nelson. “She’s going to be a really strong performer for us.”
For the men, the day exposed youth. The Mustangs’ roster boasts three seniors and nine underclassmen. Saturday, in the most pressure-packed meet of the season, the youngsters had to mentally block out soggy footing on an all-grass, rain-soaked course.
“I guess today was a display of who had that racing maturity more than anything,” Schroeder said. “We were a little bit disappointed, but I was really excited about how my guys responded to that. It was a great display of character. They were very disappointed, but they handled that very well.”