The men’s and women’s cross-country teams ended their seasons with two top-15 team finishes.
The Saluki men finished ninth of the 29 competing teams at Friday’s NCAA Midwest Regionals in Springfield, Mo. Junior Brian Dixon led the men as he notched a 19th place finish. With a time of 30 minutes and 9.27 seconds, this is the third time this season Dixon has finished as the swiftest Saluki. The 19th finish earns the runner All-Region honors, which is awarded to the top-25 finishers at each regional event.
The finish has also earned Dixon an individual berth at Saturday’s NCAA Nationals in Louisville, Ky.
For nationals, 18 teams automatically qualify by finishing in the top two at their regional meets, and 13 additional at-large bids are awarded across the board. From there, the top four runners at each regional who are not attached to an advancing team are selected to compete in the national meet as an individual.
Sophomore Nick Schrader rounded out the Saluki top 50 with 32nd place at 31:09.27. Schrader has been a top-three Saluki finisher in four meets this season.
Coach Matt Sparks said he is pleased with this season’s success, but he is already preparing the team for next season.
“The main focus of our season was to win conference,” he said. “We spent the last two weeks talking about taking our program to the next level, which isn’t only a qualifier, but getting ready to qualify our whole team in 2013 to get some recognition on a national level.”
Freshman Oscar Medina finished 68th of 190 runners and clocked a 32:06.45 time. Medina said he thought he performed well in his first regional performance.
“There were like 20 or so teams there, and having to race with a lot of people was difficult,” he said. “The hardest part was getting position.”
Although there was elite competition at the Midwest Regionals, Medina said the opposition didn’t affect the team’s composure.
“We weren’t intimidated because we feel that we have one of the best teams in the country,” he said. “We like going into meets as the underdogs.”
The women’s 12th-place finish was its best regional performance since 2006 when the team finished 10th.
Sophomore Lacey Gibson led the women with a 32nd place finish at 21:38:29. She said finishing only eight seconds away from All-Region honors was disappointing, but she ran faster than she has in recent meets.
“I managed to get to a better start than I did the last few races. I even felt better out there than usual,” she said. “It was a lot more competition out there, and the race was a 6k instead of the usual five.”
Sophomore Sadie Darnell and Freshman Kelley Gallagher finished back-to-back at 68th and 69th place. Fellow freshman Kristen Levi also finished inside of the top-100 for the women as she tabbed 71st place.
Gibson said the women outperformed preseason expectations, and they have much to build upon.
“Our goal coming into the season was to finish in the top 15,” she said. “We did well this season, but next year we will come back even stronger.”