Amy Pierson, nursing senior, races Friends’ Jordan Arnold to the finish at the conference meet Saturday. Pierson finished second behind Arnold, leading the women to a third-place finish. Clinton Dick/Collegian photographer.

By Lea Shores
Staff reporter

Thirty-one. It’s just a number to most people–perhaps one birthday after “The Big One,” or, for most students, around 10 years older than they are.
For the men’s cross country team on Saturday, that number meant something else. It was looming, representing a rich tradition, older than runners themselves.

Thirty-one years is enough to make anyone a little bit nervous, especially when, for the men’s cross country team, it’s the number of consecutive years of conference championships.

Jim Helmer, head cross country coach, said, “It’s always in the back of my mind. I think it’s a positive thing. It motivates our current runners to keep the tradition.”

Helmer’s theory was proven right. The men won and women got third at the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship in Salina on Saturday.

Helmer said the women finished right where they were picked to. “Overall it’s been another great season. Our women’s team was as good as almost all the conference championship teams in the past. We were pleased with our finish,” he said.

Amy Pierson, nursing senior, finished second overall with a time of 18:17.01, less than a second behind Friends runner Jordan Arnold. “It was less than a second in a great, great battle down the stretch. Amy ran one of her best races ever,” said Helmer.

Pierson said, “I don’t get beat at the end of a race very often, so it was kind of sad. I gave it my best and my best just wasn’t good enough. No regrets, I gave it my all.”

Pierson will be the only woman for the Builders racing at nationals on Nov. 20 in Vancouver, WA. “I think getting beat kind of helps in terms of training for nationals. It will put a little fire under my belt and spur me to try harder,” said Pierson.

Despite only having one woman running at nationals, Helmer was happy with the outcome for them. “Jordan Unruh is a senior and she has had her best season yet. Larrissa Vasquez, also a senior, has improved a lot. And Jennifer Hendrixson who is a junior has had a breakthrough season,” said Helmer.

Following Pierson in the race was 14 Jordan Unruh 19:38.28, 19 Jennifer Hendrixson 20:04.84, 25 Larrissa Vasquez 20:39.26, 28 Mallorie Coffman 20:57.58, 33 Sydnee Nelson 21:37.26, 36 Jacey Cullop 21:52.82, 55 Erica Dunigan 24:27.31.

The men’s team did not have anyone place in the top three but they still came home with the 31 straight conference championship title.

Andrew Topham, biochemistry senior, finished first for the Builders and fourth overall with a time of 26:01.74. “That’s the farthest back our No. 1 runner has been in long, long time. The key is keeping all your runners close together,” said Helmer.

Eight of the 11 men finished in the top 15, giving the Builders the boost they needed to keep the number one team slot.

Topham said, “It’s the fact that we have our top five in the top 10, and the fact that the other teams just don’t have the depth. The McPherson guy who won is very good but he didn’t have the teammates to back him up. We might not have the top guy but we have most of the top guys.”

Despite the pressure runners may feel not lose the title after so many years, the men seem to have remained calm.

“Last year there was a team that was competing on our level. We definitely felt the pressure. This year it was more relaxed because as long as we ran a normal race it should have been OK,” said Topham.

The seven top men will be competing at nationals. Following Topham was 5 Conner Drendel 26:07.36, 6 Colton McNinch 26:15.42, 8 Carrington Crum 26:52.35, 9 Frank Adelman26:57.62, 12 Sam McDaniel 27:22.79, 13 Eric Anders 27:34.21, 14 Darnell Pittman 27:44.61, 22 Trey Burton 28:21.00, 31 Daniel Van Sickle 28:57.68, 43 Chris Donald 30:03.77.

Lea Shores is a senior majoring in English. You may e-mail her at lea.shores@sckans.edu.