What’s more exciting than winning a national championship? Winning two such titles . . . on the same day.
The men and women of Milligan University won titles Friday at the NAIA Men’s and Women’s Cross Country National Championships in Vancouver, Wash. The men’s team had four All-Americans in blowing away the competition, while the women—paced by overall winner Alyssa Bearzi—had three All-Americans, according to a post at MU’s website.
These were the first two NAIA team championships in program history. It was only the third time the winning teams hailed from the same school in the same year.
The men finished with a team score of 115, which was 60 spots ahead of the runner-up, the University of St. Mary’s from Kansas.
All-American finishers for the Buffaloes included sophomore Aaron Jones (11th), senior Nathan Baker (14th), sophomore Eli Cramer (20th), and graduate student Will Stockley (27th). It was the second All-American designation for Jones and Cramer, and the third for Baker.
Rounding out the top five for Milligan was junior Jake Crow (58th). MU’s next two were freshman Bryn Woodall and grad student Alex Mortimer.
“Having the opportunity to sit back and watch this men’s team all year, I knew they were special,” said MU head coach Chris Layne, who was named NAIA Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year. “But this is a tough league at the top and you have to do it on the day, and in this sport there are no givens. I’m extremely proud of every guy in this program.”
In the women’s race, Bearzi was in third place with one lap to go but outkicked her opponents over the final 2 kilometers to win by 2 seconds; her time was 18:14, tops among a field of 338 runners. It was Milligan’s first-ever individual cross country title.
Not too far behind were MU grad student Lemi Wutz (finishing 5th) and senior Avery DeWolf Burton (11th). All three were named All-American. It was Wutz’s third national top-10 showing (the first two coming while running for SCAD-Savannah as an undergrad). Burton is now a two-time All-American.
“Alyssa really started to turn the corner at the right time, so I felt both she and Lemi had a shot today,” Layne told MU’s website. “They have worked in tandem and definitely helped each other take another step.”
Caitlin Dominy (61st), a junior, and Gracie Allen (73rd), a sophomore, completed Milligan’s top five. Rounding out the team effort were senior Gabrielle Mardis and freshman Ali Burns.
“In this field, our ladies had to be darn near perfect today and they were,” Layne said. “This is such a talented and resilient bunch, and they absolutely put it together when it counted the most. I’m so happy for all of them.”
The runner-up in the women’s race was the University of St. Francis from Illinois.
(Images courtesy of Milligan University.)