The Lewis-Clark State College men’s and women’s cross country programs received at-large berths to the 2012 NAIA National Championships, and will send full rosters to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site on Nov. 17 in hopes of bringing some hardware back to Lewiston.
The championship field was announced Monday afternoon by the national office.
The Warrior women were ranked 12th and the men 19th in the final regular-season coaches’ poll, and did some major hand-wringing over the weekend after failing to lock up an automatic berth at Friday’s Frontier Conference Championships.
Even though both squads came in second to Carroll on Friday, they did enough to continue their long history at the NAIA Championships. The women will make their 12th consecutive appearance at nationals and received one of the seven at-large selections to the 32-team field. The men got one of nine at-large bids, and their 11th straight national berth.
“We use it as part of our recruiting, that we’ve been going to nationals since our kids were in first grade,” Lewis-Clark State coach Mike Collins said. “To not have been selected would have been disappointing and unexpected, given the goals and expectations this team has. We certainly want to place higher than our rankings.”
Each squad will designate seven runners to compete on Nov. 17, with three alternates.
Both Warrior teams are hoping to be one of the top four placers at nationals and come home with a trophy. The men finished fourth at the national meet last fall, the program’s first trophy-winning performance in its storied history. The 2011 national meet was also run at Fort Vancouver.
“It’s a very up and down course, and we’re going to alter our training a little bit because of that,” Collins said.
Both LCSC squads battled injuries an illness leading up to the Frontier Conference Championships, and hope to use the time between now and Nov. 17 to get healthy.
The men’s team was especially beset by the injury bug, as Sam Atkin and Pauric McLaughlin, two of the Warriors’ top performers during the regular season, were sidelined for the conference meet.
Collins said Monday that McLaughlin is very likely to be healthy enough for nationals, but Atkin is questionable.
“We’re getting to the point with Sam that we have to look at how effective he’ll be,” Collins said. “But Pauric is looking real good.”
Even if Atkin doesn’t make it back for nationals, the Warriors will be a formidable team with the last two Frontier Conference champions ready to go.
Dave Marks won the meet at Carroll on Friday, and senior Jimmy Oribo, the 2011 conference champion, is finally nearing 100 percent after an injury-ravaged regular season. Oribo was third at this year’s conference meet.
“Jimmy is a huge factor for us,” Collins said. “He and Dave were only 49 seconds apart on Friday, and he’ll have the benefit of another two weeks of training.”
Collins believes the men, heavily favored to win the conference crown, will run with chips on their shoulders at nationals.
“There are multiple emotions going on. We’re relieved to be in, but we’re a little angry too,” he said. “We know we’re much better than No. 19 if everyone’s healthy.”
Collins said a good deal of the women’s roster had flu-like symptoms last week and had to work very hard to finish second behind conference champion Carroll on Friday.
Like the men, he believes the women will be much healthier come Nov. 17.
Senior Kelsey Klettke was second in the conference race, and senior Chelsey Leighton and sophomore Sophie Bush both turned in top 10 performances.
“The women were more focused on conference than the men were, but now we’re in,” Collins said. “All of the energy is on nationals now.”
The Warriors will have hard workouts this week before tapering off dramatically next week, hopefully ensuring that they’ll be rested and ready for the big stage.
Since the race is only 350 miles away from Lewiston, Collins said he expects a big contingent of Warrior fans and alumni at Fort Vancouver.
“It’s special in that it’s likely the last year the national meet will be held in the Northwest for quite some time,” he said. “We have hopes that it could be a very special trip.”