At the Gulf South Conference cross-country championships in Oakville, Alabama this weekend, the men’s team placed seventh and the women’s placed third.
This is the second year for the teams to compete in the event, and both had runners earn all-conference honors. Jake Whitney and Will Donelson, both junior cell and molecular biology majors, placed ninth and tenth. Janey Berends, sophomore undeclared major, placed sixth.
Four girls earned second team honors for the Bulldogs: Abby Berends, sophomore special education major, finished eleventh; BethAnne Davis, senior nursing major, finished sixteenth; Sarah Fickley, sophomore biology major, finished eighteenth and Lindsey Jakeman, junior business major, finished nineteenth. The women’s team was the only team to have all five counting runners in the top 19.
Heading into the weekend, the Lady Bulldogs were the defending champions and seeded to place second to Lee University. Though eight of the nine racers ran fast enough to have either season best or personal best times, the University of West Alabama came from behind to edge out both Union and Lee for the title.
Coach Gary Johnson said he was proud of his team’s efforts and the hard work they’d put in all semester.
“Our team worked very hard today and represented Christ and Union well,” he said. “Several of our runners had season best days today, and that should encourage them for regionals. West Alabama ran a great race and earned their championship today.”
The next challenge facing the Bulldogs is the NCAA DII South Region Tournament in Tampa, Florida. The top three teams from regionals will advance to nationals later in the semester.
Donelson said he is cautiously optimistic about regionals; his hopes are high but he also realizes competition will be stiff.
“I really hope that we just end the season with a best effort from each of our runners. Neither team is a heavy favorite going into Regions, but I truly think anything is possible and that we can make a couple upsets in Florida,” he said. “I also hope that we can each use our gifts that God has blessed us with and have one final push to end the season on a good note, whatever that may mean for each of our team members.”
For Donelson and Whitney, earning all-conference honors is just one more accomplishment in a season that has included several personal bests and top finishes for both. Donelson ran a career best 25:37 during a meet in Louisville, and Whitney edged out Donelson by only a few seconds this weekend with a time of 25:47.
Donelson attributed their success to both better training and a better mentality about racing and said Whitney’s friendship and competition balance him out both on and off the course.
“I don’t think there is a better duo of teammates out there than Jake and me,” he said. “We complement each other perfectly in both the day-to-day training of practice and in the running mindset. The fact that we each have these different strengths…allows us to make each other the best we can be and compete to be among the top 10 runners in the conference.”