Xavier University’s men’s and women’s cross country teams entered Saturday’s Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships as the eight-time defending champion.
They made it nine Saturday at New Orleans City Park, although Edward Waters made a push for both titles. Xavier and Edward Waters had the top two spots in both races.
“It’s amazing. It’s been a long, long road,” said Xavier coach Joseph Moses. “It was close. We knew our fifth (men’s) runner was going to struggle a little bit.”
Both Xavier squads, along with the top five finishers not on the winning team will go to the NAIA championship on Nov. 22 in Lawrence, Kan.
Kwame Jackson won his third GCAC title when he won the men’s 8 kilometer race with a time of 29:03.16.
“Our team, we’ve been competitive for the past 10 years in this race,” Jackson said. “You would think the best runner is going to win all the time and it doesn’t really matter. It’s a lot of pressure. I woke up this morning, and I was like, ‘Man, am I really going to win this race?’ ”
While Jackson won, the next two finishers were about 70 seconds behind him.
“Repeating like that is a lot tougher than I would think,” Jackson said.
Local individual finishers from the men’s race that qualified for the NAIA meet were Alex Saunders from SUNO, who finished fourth with a time of 30:36.64, and Dillard’s Jevonte Ezzard, who finished seventh with a time of 32:04.88.
In the women’s 5K, Edward Waters freshman Joy Miller won with a time of 21:10.78. She edged Xavier’s Hannah Finnegan by three seconds.
“Before the race, I told myself, It’s my freshman year. I wanted to win this. I knew I could,” Miller said.
Despite the exhaustion she experienced during the race, she kept running
“When my body said stop, I just kept going,” said Miller, who is from Rice Lake, Wis. Her 5K personal best is 20:20.
Winning her first conference race was something that surprised Miller.
“I had always dreamed of running in college,” Miller said. “I didn’t think I would have the opportunity, but Edward Waters gave me that opportunity.”
SUNO’s Orenthia Bennett was the only local individual finisher that qualified for the NAIA meet. She finished 11th with a time of 23:32.28.