VANCOUVER, Washington - Garrett Young does not believe his Kansas Wesleyan cross country runners will be intimidated by the large and elite field they will compete against on the biggest stage of the season.
Ten Coyotes - seven men and three women - will toe the line Friday in the 68th Annual Men's and 44th Annual Women's NAIA Cross Country National Championships. They will run with the top runners in the NAIA and Young is optimistic.
"When you have a team like Saint Mary who's ranked in the (NAIA) top five in your (Kansas) Conference and we've raced against three times this year, could have three or four All-Americans and has someone who's pretty heavily favored to be the individual champion I think you kind of get used to seeing the level of competition that we're going to deal with," he said."We've competed at meets against multiple top 10 teams in the country at Blazing Tiger (Invitational in Nebraska). We've raced against the University of Nebraska, we've raced against the University of Kansas, we've raced against Air Force and Creighton so it's not really like being starstruck out there."
The men's field consists of 36 teams and 85 individual qualifiers; the women's field 36 teams and 88 individuals.
The women's race begins at 12:30 p.m. Central time and the men at 1:30 p.m.
The KWU men qualified as a team by placing second in the KCAC Championships in Winfield two weeks ago - the first men's team to qualify since 2016. The trio of women represents the largest number of national qualifiers in school history after the team placed third in the KCAC.
Individual success was commonplace at the conference meet as six of the eight Coyote women who ran set personal records as did 14 of the 21 men.
"That's about as good as you can ask for at this point in the season," Young said.
Madisyn Ehrlich, Josie Koppes and Charlee Lind will represent Wesleyan in the women's race. All three are sophomores. Ehrlich ran in last year's national championship race in Tallahassee, Fla., and returns to nationals after placing 12th in the conference meet in 23 minutes, 07.58 seconds. Koppes was 11th in 23:07.56 and Lind 18th in 23:50.43.
"Madi and Josie have traded off being the top runner a few times this season," Young said. "They finished with the exact same time down to a 10th of a second at the conference meet. It's good for both of them to have someone to help push them."
Calvin placed seventh at the KCAC in 24:47.88. Jackson was eighth (24:51.59), Hess ninth (25:01.74), Huyser 22nd (25:57.89), Avila 23rd (25:58.64), Cruz 26th (26.09.48) and Rios 27th (26.15.78). Calvin and Hess competed in the 2022 NAIA race.
Seven Coyotes will run Friday with the team score compiled from the top five finishers.
"I really thought that we should have had the men's team in last year so having the whole team back and knowing where we wrapped up the season, I think that we were expecting this," Young said. "We have had some guys come on this year and run pretty well for us. It was really challenging trying to make our top 10."
Competing against the KCAC throughout the season was beneficial, according to Young.
"We come from a really strong conference so by no means is it an easy task to go in and perform at a high level at the KCAC meet," he said. "They've seen very high-level competition all year and so they know what to expect."
The 8-kilometer Fort Vancouver National Historic Championship Course will be difficult, according to Young.
"It is challenging and it is not for the faint of heart," he said. "I think it is punishing for the sake of being punishing. We won't have anyone running PRs. I don't doubt my athletes but this course runs over a minute slow generally. If you have a great day, you're probably 75 seconds slower than normal."We'll go in with a strategy and see what the payoff for that can be and hope for the best."