It was a historic week for Ole Miss cross country, as both the men’s and women’s teams built on last year’s record-breaking season and qualified for each team’s respective NCAA Tournament. Both programs’ appearances will mark back-to-back trips, but the true history-making moment came during the regional qualifiers.
The women’s program, coming off a second-place finish in last year’s regionals, scored its first-ever top finish in the South region championship. The championship showing capped off an already impressive tournament that saw all five scorers from the women’s team place in the top 25.
Leading the way with a seventh-place finish was Shelby Brown with a time of 20:15.4, followed by finishes from Anna Braswell (12th), Hannah Christen (13th), Emily Bean (14th) and Clio Ozanne-Jaques (17th). The overall team display culminated with a final score of 59, a whole 14 points better than the second-place finisher.
“We had a plan to pack up together and run through the field,” head coach Ryan Vanhoy said. “We wanted to start a little bit further back and then work our way through together.”
Heading into the national tournament this weekend with full steam, the women’s team will contend with several powerful runners, including the returning champ, Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer. Another scare for any competitor is New Mexico’s Ednah Kurgat, who is looking to complete a perfect season.
While the competition looks to be fierce, the women’s squad is rolling into the season’s final tournament with more than enough momentum on its side to finish in a historic manner.
On the men’s side, a combination of stellar individual performances could not quite push the team to the top of the men’s regional championship, and the team finished and qualified in second place. Despite senior Sean Tobin finishing sixth overall with a time of 30:15.7, and Derek Gutierrez (12th), Waleed Suliman (14th), and Parker Scott (19th) all netting top 20 times and Brandon Harvey earning the 30th-place spot, the Rebels simply could not overcome top-running Middle Tennessee. The Rebels’ final score of 76 came just five points short of topping the Blue Raiders’ tournament-leading 71.
“We counted on a couple of guys to really step up and fill that fifth position for us today. Brandon Harvey did a fantastic job of doing that,” Vanhoy said. “He did exactly what we told him to do. He ran the race exactly how we told him to, and he really helped secure our fourth-straight trip to NCAAs.”
The upcoming NCAA championships in Louisville will conclude an already great season Saturday. The stacked field includes the returning champ, No. 1 Northern Arizona, and No. 2 BYU, who is coming off of a perfect 1-2-3-4-5 finish in its regional qualifier.
The field is certainly stacked, and both the men’s and women’s cross country teams will need near-perfect outings from each runner if they hope to overcome the competition and make history.