Back-to-back Iowa Conference champions (2012, 2013)
NORTHFIELD, MINN.—Eclipsing another milestone in what has become a magical season, the Central College men’s cross country team earned its first NCAA Division III championships berth since 1980 by placing second at the Central Region championship Saturday.
The Dutch women placed 12th.
Men narrowly miss championship—The No. 22 Dutch entered the day favored to win the regional title for the first time in school history, but were narrowly upset 75-70 by No. 29 St. Olaf (Minn.). Central had previously defeated the Oles at the Sept. 29 Roy Griak Inv. and the Oct. 13 Jim Drews Inv.
“I’m proud of the team’s effort today,” said head coach Joe Dunham. “We didn’t accomplish our goal of being regional champions, but more importantly we secured one of the automatic bids to the national meet.”
Dutch runners garnered five all-region medals. Eli Horton (sophomore, Runnells, Southeast Polk HS) took runner-up honors, traversing the 8,000-meter course in 25 minutes, 30.1 seconds, while teammate Cole Decker (freshman, Des Moines, West Des Moines Dowling HS) was close behind in third (25:36.3). Drew Jackson (sophomore, Johnston) was the next Central runner across the line in 19th (26:17.7), followed by Austin O’Brien (junior, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS) in 21st (26:20) and Brent Ewing (junior, Cincinnati, Centerville HS) in 30th (26:26). The top-35 finishers earn all-region citations. Freshman Sloan Beninga (Stout, Dike-New Hartford HS) took 40th (26:39.1) and Cody Doughan (junior, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS) was 94th (27:48.4) to round out the Dutch squad. St. Olaf’s Grant Wintheiser won the individual title in a time of 25:20.9.
A tight race between Central and the Oles in the early going, including an 85-85 tie at the three-mile mark, appeared to break in the host school’s favor late in the fourth mile of the race, but a furious charge by Dutch runners on the final stretch put the outcome in question until the final scores were tallied.
“We really got back into it the last 600 meters of the race,” said Dunham. “It is a tribute to our guys, they gave it everything they had. It is good to have these kinds of experiences at big meets.”
St. Olaf and Central earned the region’s two automatic qualifying berths. Luther, St. John’s (Minn.), and Loras came in third (144), fourth (155), and fifth (170) respectively and will be placed in the at-large pool eligible for an NCAA bid. The 32-team field will be finalized Sunday.
McDermott leads women again—Senior Mel McDermott (Britt, West Hancock HS) led the Dutch in her final career cross country race, crossing the 6,000-meter course in 24:10.5 to finish 50th. Shelby Mendoza (junior, Norwalk) was next across the line in 57th (24:17.9), while Emma Nelson (junior, Pekin) was 64th (24:24.8) and Alyssa Eaves (sophomore, Johnston) took 80th (24:43.1). Daphne Baumgartner (junior, Perry) placed 94th (24:59.7) with Molly Bramble (freshman, Waukee) and Amanda Dunkin (junior, Pella) rounding out the squad in 131st (25:46.8) and 137th (25:55.8) respectively.
“I thought the women’s team came out and competed hard today,” said Dunham. “They had their challenges this season but I’m proud of the way they were able to overcome them.”
The Dutch tallied 345 points for 12th. Wartburg won the meet with 72 points while host St. Olaf scored 92 for the second automatic qualifying spot. Luther took third (121), while Carleton (Minn.) and Gustavus Adolphus (Minn.) tied for fourth (136). League rival Loras was 17th (419). Minn.-Morris senior Linda Keller won the individual title with a time of 21:32.8.
Associate head coach Stephen Fyfe cited several good individual performances.
“Daphne had a very strong race today and I think she will build on that next year,” said Fyfe. “And Shelby finished the season with three solid races, which was great to see after some injury issues early in the year.”
He also offered some reflections on the season.
Many of our runners came a long way this fall,” said Fyfe. “This one race was not our best effort, but we still managed to place ahead of some teams that had beaten us all year long, so we can be happy about that.”
McDermott closes her career with a surplus of accolades. She was the program’s Most Valuable Freshman in 2009 and earned the Most Valuable Performer award in 2011 and 2012. She is a three-time co-captain and was twice listed on the all-Iowa Conference academic team. McDermott was also a member of the 2009 squad that placed 19th at the NCAA championship meet. She was the top Central finisher in 15 of her 25 cross country races over her four-year career, including the past 11 straight.
“Mel has been a great leader and a model for the other runners on our team,” said Fyfe. “Her approach to the sport and work ethic are exemplary and she will be missed.”
The Dutch men have a quick turnaround. The national meet is next Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind. at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, with the men’s race scheduled for 11 a.m. It’s Central’s fourth NCAA team trip in program history. The 1980 Dutch squad produced a 21st-place finish.
“We’re excited to represent Central College at the most important meet of the year,” said Dunham. “We’ve had a great season and we’re looking forward to finishing on a high note.”