By Ty Schadt, Staff Writer

As the Asbury cross country teams gears up for the River States Conference Meet in Elsah, Illinois on Nov. 5, excitement is high. Last year, both the men’s and women’s team placed third in the tournament, and similarly, both enter as the three seed this year. It has been a successful season for the teams as many runners have set personal records (PRs), which have led to several respectable finishes in meets.

Despite having to power through a season that has been riddled with injuries, the women’s team has put together an impressive résumé heading into the conference tournament. Senior Katy Falkenberg has participated in only two of the team’s meets but has managed to set PRs in both her performances. Sophomore McKenna Phipps, described by coach Randy Crist as “our most consistent runner,” finished the 5K in 19:48 – the tenth best time in school history. Her success continued at the Asbury Invitational, where she was the first NAIA runner to finish the race. The Eagles also saw great runs from freshman Molly Pegram, senior Rachel Terry and freshman Meg Helton, who finished 14-16 and helped the team secure second place in the Invitational.

I’m fully confident we can beat Rio Grande.

On the men’s side of things, the team cemented a first place finish over conference rival Indiana University East in the West Virginia University Tech meet. Many runners put forth tremendous effort at this meet, but perhaps none more so than freshman Yoel Rivas. He was the first to cross the finish line at a mark of 29:05, a PR which he would subsequently shatter at the team’s following meet in Louisville. Junior Sam Starnes was extremely influential in the WVU Tech Meet, finishing third with a time of 29:24. Seniors Caleb Mootispaw and Caleb Woodard, as well as freshman Hayden Dwyer, also solidified top ten ranks, helping the Eagles come out on top.

As each team eyes the conference tournament, they enter as three seeds. Rio Grande is favored to win the men’s tournament and Point Park boasts the one seed in the women’s tournament. However, the runners refuse to let projections cloud their minds. “I’m fully confident we can beat Rio Grande (#2 women’s seed),” said Falkenberg. Sophomore Matt Sagan said, “I know we are going to go out there and give it 110 percent and push for victory.”

This sense of confidence must be prevalent for any team hoping to compete in an important tournament, and the Eagles deserve to feel that way. Falkenberg has reached nationals three consecutive years and is aiming to become the first Asburian to go four-for-four. Woodard and Starnes both received all-conference awards last year, and Mootispaw qualified for nationals several years ago. “They all know how to perform when the stakes are high,” said Crist.

For the women, Crist expects to see several All-Conference awards and possibly a few national qualifiers. “With a good race, I think they can challenge for the runner-up team trophies, and with a great race, maybe have a chance to pull off a big upset and win.”

It’s hard to imagine a more fitting end to this season for both teams than for them to hoist up the River States Conference Championship Trophies. After nearly having their postseason stripped away due to the NAIA’s decision to relocate the National Tournament, both teams are eager to compete in the conference and attempt to qualify for nationals. It’s been a memorable year for the cross country team, and the possibilities are endless as they enter the postseason. It will be interesting to see how far they can ride the wave of momentum they’ve generated throughout the regular season.