A fundamental difference between track and cross country is the variability of the terrain. A rubber track is smooth, flat, and delightfully springy to compete on. But, in cross country, competitors may be running on anything from gravel to golf course grass, from concrete to wooded trails. And when the weather decides not to cooperate, whatever terrain the runners are competing on can take a turn for the worse. This past Saturday morning, the skies opened up in a traditional Texas downpour, turning the race course at the East Texas Baptist University Invitational in Marshall, Texas into inches-deep mud and muck. And the Crusaders lined up bravely to fight through it to the finish.
The women raced first, tearing up the course and slipping, sliding and sneaking past opponents to claim second place overall as a team. Senior Clare Myers picked her way through the mud in her usual fashion, high on her toes with quick, short strides. She finished the 6K course first for the Crusaders in 25:12 and in third place overall. Junior phenom Ruth Fritz and senior Danielle Pajak both finished the race in the top ten runners, placing fourth and eighth, respectively. Fritz ran the race in 25:28 and Pajak in 26:30. The women raced solidly as a team, and the top five runners finished the course within less than two minutes of each other.
The men took to the much-battered course. The mud was thicker, and although the rain had let up by the time they raced, the course was still considerably slippery, and some of the corners in the course were so tight that it was almost impossible not to slip and fall. The Crusaders took it all in stride, though, and junior Javier Secaira stepped up to the challenge to finish in first place for the Crusaders. Secaira ran the 8K race in 29:56 and with a shoe untied for the majority of the race. Fellow juniors Ryan McAnany and Jack Grubner were the next two Crusaders to finish the race, within just three seconds of one another, 31:24 and 31:27 respectively. The men finished in fifth place as a team.
“That course could have been so much faster if there weren’t mud everywhere,” Grubner commented after his finish, covered from head to toe in mud and grass. “It was the perfect cross country course, flat with just a few slight downhills. I was looking forward to a personal record today, and then this happened.” He pointed up to the sky with a rueful smile and shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s cross country; this happens,” he said. “I think the team still raced well, despite the slow times. It was a good test before conference.”
The team travels to Austin College next weekend to face off against the team’s former head coach, Matthew Buchhorn. The rivalry is sure to make for an interesting race.