By Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
Asbury’s women’s cross country team is a day away from competing in the NAIA National Championships in Lawrence, Kan. against 36 teams and over 300 other runners. After finishing second in the KIAC championship the past two years, head coach Randy Crist was determined that this year’s team would be the one to make a change. “Every year our goals center around honoring Christ and doing our best,” Crist said, “[but] the competitive goal [at the start of the season] was the same as the last several years: to win conference.”
They started off this season strong all the way back on Aug. 29 when the team took first place at the Chick-fil-A Invitational. Senior Justine Vonderheide finished third that day, after medical issues last summer nearly forced her off the team.
“I was told by the doctors not to run until I had surgery. But with a lot of prayer and relying on God, I was healed,” Vonderheide said. Vonderheide was nearly a minute quicker in the conference championships then she was back in August and is ready for the challenge of nationals. “I wanted to give my all more than ever and run for God because…he had given me back my season,” she said. “I want to run at Nationals with all that I have and still put as much energy into it as I have the whole season.”
Fellow senior Devon Zweifel has also had a strong season despite off-season issues. “Coming into the season I was recovering from an injury…that put me out for about a month and a half of training,” Zweifel said. “My goals [for this season] included building my foundation back up…and getting back into the 19 minute range for our 5k race.” Zweifel hasn’t broken the 19 minute mark yet. “That’s what Nationals are for,” she said. Her closet time was during the conference championships where she finished in 20:15.
This year’s team has been helped out by an injection of fresh talent and a greater cohesion between teammates. “ We have grown into such a close-knit group, more so than ever before,” Zweifel said. “We all support each other…we’ve made a point of uplifting one another in practice…and believing that we could actually win conference.”
Praise was also given to this year’s freshmen, particularly Sabrina Salvacion and Erin Garmany. “We gained a few fast runners who helped us win the [conference],” said Vonderheide, “Without them, we couldn’t have done it.”
Tomorrow’s race is a huge step for the women’s team and the challenge isn’t lost on Coach Crist. “Racing in a big meet with the 36 best teams in the country is totally different than our ten-team conference race,” Crist said. “Some of our ladies will need to run near their best ever to even place among the top 200 runners.”
“The team knows that without the gifts and strength that God has given us, we never could have performed as well as we have this season,” said Zweifel. “I want to go out to Kansas and show the competition that we are there for a reason.”