By Paige Carswell
Staff reporter

When the Builder men and women step onto the cross country course at the Buhler Invitational Friday, the men will be preparing for a fight they haven’t had to face in 29 years.

No Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference team has beaten the Southwestern College men’s cross country team in almost three decades. Not only counting the KCAC meet, but every single meet besides that.

That means for 29 years the men’s cross country team has had a completely unblemished record and have been favored to win the KCAC Championship each year since 1980.

Well, until Saturday.

In perhaps a turning of powers, the men finished in ninth place out of 28 teams at the Oklahoma State University Cowboy Jamboree Saturday. In seventh place, seven points ahead of the Builder men, was Kansas Wesleyan University.

It’s not that the men have gotten slower, said head coach Jim Helmer. In fact, the Builder men ran their fastest race at OSU in the last seven years Saturday.  It’s just that Kansas Wesleyan is that good.

“They’ve (KWU) stepped it up,” said Helmer. “That will be a challenge. They’re very good.”

Andrew Topham, biology junior, finished sixth in the Jamboree in a field of 239 runners. That placing was good enough for Topham to be named the KCAC Men’s Cross Country Runner of the Week.

“He’s outstanding,” Helmer said of Topham. “He’s better than he’s ever been at this point.”

Frank Adelman, biology freshman, is the number two runner for the men. He finished 32nd in the Jamboree.

“I knew he was talented and I knew he was good,” said Helmer. “He’s better than I anticipated.”

On the women’s side, Amy Pierson finished in second place in a field of 199 runners, making her the KCAC Women’s Cross Country Runner of the Week. Pierson has consistently been the top runner for the Southwestern women this year after being the number four runner for the women during the 2008 season. She has improved her times at meets this year by two to three minutes each meet, Helmer said.

“Amy has had the big, big breakthrough that you hope everyone will have at some point,” said Helmer. “We knew she was getting ready for that during the track season last year. There’s not many around that can beat her at this point.”

Pierson received All-American honors last year when she placed sixth in the 800 meter in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Indoor Meet in March. She qualified for the national outdoor meet but just missed finals.

Sydnee Nelson, biology freshman, has been the women’s number two runner this season.

“She’s having a really good season for a freshman,” said Helmer.

Having Alyssa Carter, psychology senior, and Jordan Unruh, nursing junior, out with injuries has hindered the team’s standings so far, Helmer said. Carter was consistently the number three runner for the women in the 2008 season. She ran in the Jamboree on Saturday, marking her first race back.

“She’s training consistently now,” said Helmer. “It’s just nice to have her back. We had a lot to overcome running with only one of last year’s top seven. I’m really pleased with it.”

The two teams that the women are watching for right now lie in Friends University and KWU. Friends is ranked 20th in NAIA standings. Helmer looks for the two teams to cause the women some trouble at conference.

“They got good at the same time we graduated four outstanding seniors,” said Helmer. “Things have changed.”

Still, the women ran their second-fastest time in the last eight years at the Jamboree Saturday, signaling to Helmer that they’re still making progress. He says that the conference meet depends on who make breakthroughs in the next few weeks, but that overall he’s pleased with where the teams are at right now.

“Pretty much everybody is improved,” said Helmer. “Overall I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made and I think we’re right on schedule.”

Paige Carswell is a junior majoring in journalism. You may e-mail her at paige.carswell@sckans.edu.