Cross Country Preps For NCAA Championships

This article originally appeared in ZU News.


The Azusa Pacific cross country team battled through mud and rain in Hawaii on Oct. 22 to finish third overall in the men’s competition and fifth overall in the women’s. Juniors Jeremy Porter and Eileen Stressling led the Cougars, with Porter finishing fourth for the men and Stressling taking fifth for the women.

“The conditions were hilariously bad. It would have been funny if we didn’t have to run,” Stressling said. “We taped our shoes to our feet so they didn’t come off in the mud. Your foot would just go down in the mud and not come up for a while.”

Stressling is the defending conference champion and is prepared for the NCAA championships after having to run in Hawaii.

“It was just hard. There’s no way to run it except to keep going. You just can’t let go at any point,” Stressling said.

Porter’s fourth place finish was the same as last year. Yet, he viewed the conference championships differently than Stressling.

“It was a really fun meet. I think I prepared well for it and I think I did well, just focusing on staying in the same place as last year,” Porter said. “I really had to work for it, but it was a good race overall and I’m happy with my performance.”

The team prepared for the conditions in Hawaii by running in the mountains. Porter said he thought the practice paid off and is excited for the NCAA Division II West Region Championships.

“I’m looking forward to going out there and competing against some guys that I haven’t competed against so far this year,” Porter said. “My expectations are just to finish in the top 20, hopefully the top 15.”

Porter finished 21st at the D-II West Championships last year, and he must finish in the top five overall to move on to the D-II National Championships. Stressling also has a shot to make it to the nationals, although she can finish up to sixth overall.

“It’s definitely going to be better. We’ve seen [Hawaii] so we can do anything,” Stressling said. “We’ll all have each other’s back. That’s something we’re working on, wanting everyone to be successful.”

Stressling is the most experienced member of the women’s cross country team as a junior. There are three sophomores and three freshmen who make up the rest of the team.

“We’re really young,” head coach Preston Grey said.

Grey has been coaching the APU team for 12 years. He said he is proud of how the team ran in Hawaii despite the conditions.

“The course conditions were probably the worst we’ve ever ran in, so that made it a challenge, but we’ll learn a lot from that meet,” Grey said. “It was basically a tough mudder.”

Grey thinks that Stressling could represent APU as an All-American for the second year in a row.

“I think she definitely has a shot to do that again. The west region is the deepest and toughest region in the country for sure. Everybody’s got a good runner. Getting out of there as an individual is a hard thing to do,” Grey said.

Grey is shooting for the team to finish in the top 10. He thinks both teams have a chance, though the women have a better shot if everything lines up.

“This is the time of year that we all get excited about and train for. We’re just looking to run really well at the regional meet and take that on a positive note and build from there,” Grey said.

At the conference championships, Porter finished with a time of 27:32.09, only 42 seconds behind the first-place runner. Also representing the Cougars, junior Cody Drisko added All-PacWest second team honors by finishing 14th overall at 28:28.91. Senior Aaron Potts placed 26th overall, a minute behind Drisko at 29:28.08.

Sophomore Jake Kleist was the Cougars’ fourth finisher, placing 31st overall at 29:44.69. Freshman Kurt Hake rounded out the team’s top-five by placing 55th overall at 31:37.12. APU scored 121 points, four more than the next place finisher Fresno Pacific.

Stressling finished at 23:39.67, and sophomore Elise Larson finished 16th overall, clocking in at 24:47.68 and earning All-PacWest third team honors. The women’s fifth place finish was only one point behind Hawaii Pacific and four points behind Academy of Art.

The NCAA D-II West Region Championships will be held on Nov. 5 in Billings, Montana. The NCAA D-II National Championships will bring the season to a close on Nov. 19 in Saint Leo, Florida.