Going into the 2020-21 school year, the Missouri Western cross country team was told they wouldn’t have a season. Fast forward a few months, and now they have competed in their first-ever national competition with three runners being named All-Americans.
On Nov. 14 in Lubbock, Texas, the women’s cross country team and one male Griffon qualifier wrapped up their season at nationals. In the 6K, freshman Madison Nash finished 12th overall with a time of 22:59, followed closely by senior Megan Gillen in 22nd with a time of 23:23. In the men’s race, junior Riley Gorham finished 25th in the 10K with a time of 33:09. All three were named All-Americans.
Gillen said that while this year was different, it was still an accomplishment to be named All-American.
“It’s always been a goal of mine, and even though the circumstances are different this year, it feels good to still have had the opportunity to compete for it,” Gillen said.
And if three All-Americans wasn’t enough for the cross country program, the women finished sixth as a team. Runners included Nash, Gillen, senior Kelsey Cox, juniors Allison Goos, Paige Kvale, Janet Nyamboneka and freshman Jillian Kiefer.
The road to get to this national meet, however, was unusual. After the MIAA canceled fall sports, Missouri Western administration fought to allow their athletes to return to play. And since the NCAA had canceled all Division II fall championships for 2020, a few coaches decided to give teams that were still able to compete something to compete for. Thus, the national championship was created.
Since it wasn’t associated with the NCAA, the national meet was non-sanctioned, but it still gave the Griffon cross country team something to strive for. Gorham said that while it might not have been an NCAA-regulated championship, the opportunity to compete in a postseason was still a good opportunity to have.
“The national meet didn’t really feel like one,” Gorham said. “It felt more like a regional, but I had fun. It felt like a good race, just really windy.”
The cross country team was the first Missouri Western team to return to competition this fall when they ran at the Indian Hills Invitational in Ottumwa, Iowa, in October. The men finished fourth as a team, while the women took home first place, also making them the first Missouri Western team to ring the bell for the 2020-21 school year.
They then competed at the Newman Team Invitational in Wichita, Kansas. This meet doubled as their final regular-season meet and a qualifier for the upcoming national championship. The women had three runners finish in the top-20 and finished fourth as a team, which secured their ticket for nationals. Gorham came in 28th in the men’s race, which was enough to send him to the national meet, as well. The rest of the Griffon men fell just short, placing sixth overall as a team.
Gillen said she and her teammates had to learn how to adapt to change this season.
“This season was a lot about adapting to the circumstances around us and not taking anything for granted because each week we truly didn’t know if we would be able to compete,” Gillen said.
The NCAA recently gave indoor sports the green light to compete this winter, so the runners will soon have to adapt once again as they begin training for indoor track season.