Written by Mike Walker
Right after our men’s race at Sun Conference finals in Ave Maria, Florida, one of the athletes on the SCAD men’s Cross Country team approached me and asked how we placed. I’m the assistant coach and had not spoken with my head coach, Patrick Reagan, or anyone else official yet. So I said, you know, I’m not sure. He responded, “Coach, you might want to check…because I think we’re first!” And he was right! SCAD Savannah’s men’s Cross Country team had just made themselves—via a whole season’s worth of very hard work and discipline—the Sun Conference Champions.
That honor meant we went to the NAIA National Championships in Vancouver, Washington on November 18. This national championship is the best-of-the-best of college teams and individual athletes who have earned a place in the start box at the men’s and women’s cross country races here. The men’s 8K and women’s 5K races take place at historic Fort Vancouver, the foremost outpost of the Hudson Bay Company when fur trading opened up this part of the Pacific Northwest to settlers in the days of yore. Later, Fort Vancouver was an important Army post and many of the fine homes of the officers and other essential buildings remain today, lovingly restored as part of the park.
For our purposes, the grassy fields of what was once a pasture and then a parade ground made for a spectacular cross-country course. Cross country, true to its name, takes place on a course laid out over whatever terrain the distance covers. Rolling gentle hills, flat plains, gravel or grass — our spikes go over real, actual, territory. And what better a territory to explore than a headquarters of serious exploration so many centuries ago?
Along with the entire current men’s roster, we took Lemi Wutz, an incredible freshman who ended up setting a PR (personal record or best time for that athlete) in the women’s 5k race. She also earned her place here via her performance in the Sun Conference championships. She and the SCAD men’s artist-athletes—Max Groff, Sage Reiger, Veit Hoenle, Matthew Corolis, Tim Heron, Linden Weitz and Jermaine Jones—competed in their respective races and got to see some of the historic community of Vancouver, Washington and neighboring Portland, Oregon.
SCAD Cross Country athlete Courtney Pansza, athletic trainer Denise Holloway, Head Coach Patrick Reagan and myself, Assistant Coach (and SCAD grad student) Mike Walker rounded out the party SCAD sent on this journey to Nationals.
We left the Hive well before dawn on Wednesday—busy with completing finals just like the peers left behind in Savannah—and arrived in a stereotypically rainy Portland. Thursday, we went out to the course to practice in temperatures far lower than what we were accustomed to in the South.
Running downtown while our athletes ran the course, I quickly gained a strong respect for the Portlandian runners who make this region their home and run day in and day out in such conditions. Still, the beauty of the area is second to none and the people are very friendly in a down-to-earth and completely genuine way.
I have great admiration for our own cross country runners, too. They all put their hearts into this championship, knowing they would run against some of the best collegiate runners in their sport across the nation and beyond. Most of these schools which we compete against in the NAIA are much older than SCAD and many quite a bit larger. SCAD Atlanta—which fields its own athletic teams—was also at Nationals and one of my favorite moments of the meet was walking through the hotel where the meet was housed, seeing our sister team and exclaiming, “Hi Atlanta!” to which without missing a beat they returned “Hiiiiiiii Savannah!” That’s our SCAD family—bigger than any campus for you.
Sophomore Max Groff continues to provide truly impressive performances in every race he runs for SCAD with a time of 27:06 for the 8K while team-mate Sage Reiger ran 27:47 and the rest of the men’s team also proved themselves serious contenders in Vancouver. As many of these same athletes compete for SCAD’s Track and Field team, I can’t wait to see what they bring to the distance events in the spring.