The Gannon University men’s and women’s cross country teams hit the trails last weekend at California University of Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championships.
The Knight men posted their best finish in program history at a conference meet Saturday by coming in seventh among 16 teams in the 6K race. Gannon’s previous best finish in a conference championship was 11th in its inaugural PSAC season in 2008.
The Knight women ran before the men and finished 13th among 18 PSAC schools.
Sophomore Joseph Westrick etched his name into Gannon records as the first Knight to achieve All-PSAC first-team honors since the university joined the league in 2008.
Westrick just missed placing in the top 10, coming in 11th with a time of 27 minutes, 33.4 seconds, which topped all Gannon runners.
In the women’s race, freshman Meredith Morse posted Gannon’s best effort, finishing 45th out of 172 runners.
Edinboro won the women’s race with 87 points, followed by Shippensburg at 89. In third place was Kutztown with 126 points.
California junior Julie Friend placed first individually in the 6K with a time of 22:07.8.
Morse finished roughly three minutes later with a time of 25:00.0. Freshman Sarah Fiorello was next behind Morse in 59th place with a time of 25:31.1. Sophomore Allie Domer came in 64th at 25:36.3.
Morse said team members were concerned that the course had an exceptionally difficult hill and no other rough stretches, but she said that after previewing the course on the day of the race, that wasn’t the case.
“The course had a lot of hills, and the one mentioned was incredibly long and steep,” she said. “Hills are my weakness and I knew it was going to be tough, but I just had to stay optimistic and remember that I am still only a freshman.”
The women’s team’s finish represents a two-spot improvement from the 15th-place finish at last season’s conference finals. Juniors Kassidy Deuber and Hannah Sekerak produced their best 6K times of the year. Deuber ran it in 27.19.6 and Sekerak was right on her heels with a time of 27:23.3.
On the men’s side, Westrick said he wasn’t sure how he’d fare against the competition, but finishing 11th was a big confidence booster.
“It showed me I can hang with other guys in the conference that have much more extensive resumes than myself,” Westrick said.
He also credited senior Bobby Danielson, who was the first Gannon runner to earn all-conference honors, for being his mentor.
“As I transitioned to college cross country, I made it a goal of my own to accomplish the feat this year,” Westrick said. “As with all goals, it is exciting to accomplish it.”
The next Gannon runner to finish was junior Eric Ingram, who came in 32nd place with a time of 28:29.6.
Senior Grant Folgate was the Knights’ No. 3 finisher, clocking a time of 28:50.9 for 47th place overall.
Junior Garrett Sutton was rewarded for his hard work off the trail and received the PSAC Men’s Cross Country Champion Scholar award. This award is saved for the student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA. He joins a list of nine Gannon student-athletes to win this award, but he is the first from the cross country team, and he currently has a 4.0 cumulative GPA.
Sutton thought the conference championships went great for the team, and especially Westrick. However, he thought it was a rough day for himself, but was happy his teammates were there to pick him up and he couldn’t be happier to be part of the squad.
Westrick said he thought everyone was happy with the Knights’ performance as a whole.
“We have been talking about finishing in the top ten as a team since I first started on the team,” he said. “It’s really cool to see it come full circle.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams will have a couple weeks off until they travel to Lock Haven University for the 2017 NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Championships on Nov. 4.
Morse said she is excited for regionals because the course is flat.
Westrick said the team had a solid outing Saturday, especially given that they placed the best in the program’s history.
“We knew that this team had potential so seeing the results is rewarding,” he said.
Westrick said the team is looking forward to the regional meet.
“As a team we look to produce a good outing and firmly establish Gannon as a competitive cross country program,” he said. “Individually, I will look to produce a solid race and help the team score to the best of my abilities.”
Morse said the race will be a good opportunity to cut down on her previous 6k times and “focus on form and speed, rather than this weekend where it was just ‘be tough and get up the hill.’
“I would love if our (women’s) team would continue building up our mental toughness and remember to keep trusting the process and believing ourselves.”
Morse said she is looking forward to regionals and will work hard in the offseason and in spring.
“Our coach will take the cross country team to a couple of [track] meets in the spring just to keep us in shape and see what we are able to do in a different atmosphere,” Morse said. “I personally am not a fan of track at all but this season has made me more confident and stronger so I’m excited to see what I’m able to do and how the team will perform.”