A closer look: Women’s Cross Country conference championship

Womens Cross Country team
women's cross country team with Head Coach Gary Johnson

After an incredibly close race, the Union University Women’s cross country team walked away from the 2016 Gulf South Conference on Saturday, Oct. 22 as champions. They won the GSC Championship for NCAA division II for the second time in the three years they have been eligible to compete in it.

Heading in to the conference, they weren’t seeded to win. Their victory was a surprise upset that capped a season of intensely hard work and training.

“The conference race was probably the hardest race of my life,” said Amy McKelvey, junior elementary education major. “Winning is always fun, but it was even more special because I was surrounded by my teammates who are my best friends and sisters in Christ. That day our act of worship was to compete with the abilities God has so graciously given us. And I truly believe Christ was glorified.”

12 teams from across the southeastern region of the country competed for the award, and the bulldogs narrowly beat Lee University for the championship with a one-point win.

For Lindsey Jakeman, who says she did not spend the season running as well as she wanted to, this final race was the culmination of months of hard work and she described it as possibly the best race in her career. Jakeman is a graduate student in the MBA program, and this was the last chance she had to compete for the bulldogs in the conference.

She finished better than she had all season, and it was her unexpected performance that gave the team the points that put the team over the top.

Her parents, who hadn’t seen her run in four years, as well as her younger brother, flew thousands of miles to surprise her and witness this moment of triumph. Jakeman credits her incredible performance, in part, to their encouragement.

“I think having them there was a huge encouragement throughout the race to keep pushing myself because I kept thinking ‘I need to run well because my family flew thousands of miles to see me, I better make it worth it,’” Jakeman said.

Despite stellar performances from many of Union’s runners, it was a narrow victory and McKelvey remembers the moment she learned they won as one of the most exhilarating moments in her running career.

“I was surrounded by several Lee runners for most of the race and when I crossed the finish line I thought we had lost,” McKelvey said. “Despite knowing I had given it everything I could, I was still dejected and somber. But 15 minutes later I found out we had won by 1 point! I was so happy I cried!”

“The women have worked very hard this year and are dedicated to representing Christ and Union in the way we run, compete, and interact with each other and our opponents,” head coach Garry Johnson said.  “Winning conference championships in the GSC is not easy and we feel fortunate to have been able to win two of the first three years we have been eligible to compete.”

Union’s top finisher was Janey Berends in fourth place (18:52). Lee’s Audrey Smith was the race winner with a time of 18:11.

“This is a great group of girls to coach and spend time with. Each of them brings different talents to the team and we have worked on giving them chances to lead when situations allow,” Johnson said.