Fifteen years ago, this feat would have been utterly unimaginable. Here, in 2017, with competent coaching that actually appears to care about distance running in Oxford, both the men’s and women’s cross country teams are headed to the NCAA championship meet in Terre Haute. That meet will take place on Saturday, Nov. 18.
Both squads are rounding out historic seasons, with each finishing third at the SEC championships a few weeks ago. The way cross country is structured, the top two finishing teams at each regional meet automatically qualify for nationals, with the rest of the field filled out with at-large bids. The Ole Miss men finished second in the south regional, while the women won theirs outright, so off to Indiana they go.
By way of reminder cross country has the best scoring system in the history of sport. Seven runners comprise a team, and the team’s top five finishers score for the team. The points you contribute to your team a derived from your finishing position, and those five scores are added together to form a team’s score, lowest score wins. So, here’s how the men’s team filled out their finishing order this week at regionals in Tuscaloosa (this is the first 10 kilometer event of the year; the national meet will also be a 10k):
6. Sean Tobin - 30:15.7 12. Derek Gutierrez - 31:00.2 14. Walled Suliman - 31:08.3 19. Parker Scott - 31:27.4 30. Brandon Harvey - 31:56.2 52. Nolan Hesse - 32:22.3 (did not score) 105. Trevor Gilley - 33:34.3 (did not score)
That’s a neat, tight little group there among Gutierrez, Suliman, and Scott. It helps to cluster your athletes in a cross country meet, because then you can pass people in groups, pushing your collective score down in the process. It’s the purest team sport in this regard. So the collected score of Ole Miss’ top five here adds up to 76, which placed them just five points behind Middle Tennessee with 71. That is an extraordinarily slim margin of victory in an event where the participants number in the low-to-mid hundreds.
The women fared even better, topping the likes of Georgia and Florida State to take the 8k race outright with a score of 59. That’s a phenomenal score at a regional meet. Here’s how they finished:
7. Shelby Brown - 20:15.4 12. Anna Braswell - 20:25.7 13. Hannah Christen - 20:26.0 14. Emily Bean - 20:27.2 17. Clio Ozanne-Jaques - 20:30.9 30. Nicole Rice--20:50.7 (did not score) 33. Kat MacNeal--20:54.8 (did not score)
Again, note the bunching among finishers two through five. The women must have run the entire race together, tightening down their score with every runner passed, and it must have been a thing of beauty — a coach’s absolute dream.
Congratulations to the men and women. This is stellar work for a program that not two decades ago was consistently scrounging around in the bottom of the field at this meet. #WAOMXC.