Kansas Wesleyan's Stephanie Martinez (JR/Horizon City, Texas) wasn't sure what to expect Friday before her race on the hilly Great Life Salina cross country course in the KWU Invitational.
Her apprehensions faded once the event started.
"I was honestly a little nervous going into it just because I saw how many hills there were," said Martinez, a junior who qualified for the NAIA Championships last season. "I'd practiced hills before, I know how to run them, but we hadn't had a meet that had this many hills.
"But running the course itself, I felt really good about it, I knew exactly how to attack them and so did the rest of the team. Honestly I think we did as well as we could today."
Led by Martinez's fifth-place finish the Coyotes took second in the team standings behind perennial powerhouse Saint Mary, which had the top four runners. She ran the 5-kilometer course in 19 minutes, 35.71 seconds as KWU compiled 74 points and edged Tabor, which had 78. Saint Mary finished with 17 points.
"Going into this we knew a bunch of the (Kansas) Conference teams were going to be here, except for Friends and Southwestern, and knowing that we placed second today without those two teams really energizes us and gets us ready for conference knowing we can be a top three team," Martinez said.
KWU also got top 20 finishes from Tabetha Deines (JR/Salina, Kan.) (11th, 20:38.62), Christina Tripp (FR/Dayton, Idaho) (14th, 21:15.43) and Daniella Gaona (FR/Clifton, Texas) (16th, 21:27.30). Cindy Sheaffer (SO/Oberlin, Kan.) was 31st (22:40.45).
"I think this course really opened up our eyes because last week we didn't do as well as we were hoping for," Martinez said. "It really brought everyone's confidence out."
"Tabetha Deines was a big step up for us. Last week the race just didn't go the way she wanted, she was our fourth runner. We worked on some mental toughness this week and she really, really laid it all out there on the line."
The KCAC Championship are scheduled for Nov. 14 at Great Life. Saint Mary and Friends figure to be the top two women's teams this season, but Hiser likes how his team is progressing.
"Us and Tabor are going to be battling for that third-place spot in conference this year," he said. "They got us last week, we got them this week and Tabetha Deines was the reason. All of our girls, compared to last week, were in tune and locked in for the whole race and it was exciting to see."
Alyssa Armendariz of Saint Mary was the individual champion in 19:14.09, just ahead of teammate Baylie Koonce, who ran 19:15.60.
Martinez was happy to finally get to run in a cross country meet in Salina – the first in a decade.
"The fact that we haven't had a meet here in 10 years was so crazy to me," she said. "During my years in college we got to do it and I think it went amazing."
Lovell said the Coyotes did not run in the 8-kilometer Great Life course in advance of Friday.
"Coach made us run in blind to put us on equal footing with the rest of the conference," he said. "We'll probably be coming out here doing a few more workouts. I knew Great Life was hilly, we ran out here a few times last year, I knew what the set-up was. Was I ready to run five miles of it? I don't think so, but it was a good rust buster, for sure."
Hiser confirmed Lovell's expectations of returning to Great Life in the near future.
"We're going to come out here and train on it so we'll this place like the back of our hand by conference," he said.
Lovell, a senior, said he didn't feel he ran as well as he could have Friday, the top-10 finish notwithstanding.
"I definitely feel I lost to some people that I don't plan on losing to again," he said. "It leaves me very hungry. More hungry than happy, I'd say."
"With Jacob we know what we're going to get," Hiser said. "He's going to be our low stick and led the guys really well. I was excited for him to get his first 8K of the year and to see him roll in that distance was really exciting."
Austin Hess (FR/Garden City, Kan.) placed 22nd (28:41.39), Daniel York (FR/Linn, Kan.) 29th (28:48.81), Shane Calvin (FR/Lakin, Kan.) 25th (29:18.23) and Trey Stramel (FR/Colby, Kan.) 36th (30:15.05) for KWU, which had 94 points. Saint Mary won the team title with 17 points and had three of top four finishers, led by individual champion Luke Skinner (24:35.52) and runner-up Johnathan Bowen (24:51.16).
The Coyotes are idle until Sept. 26, when they compete in the Tabor Cottonwood Challenge at Harvey County East Park in Newton.