By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
Because of its unprecedented depth, and a rare level of focus and dedication that led to a team-wide move to Flagstaff, Arizona for the summer, The Master’s University men’s cross-country team allowed itself to dream. The dream consisted of a top-four finish at NAIA nationals, something the decorated program had never accomplished and something coach Zach Schroeder believed would necessitate a change in philosophy.
For years, the Mustangs have approached the Golden State Athletic Conference Championships as the apex of their season, training in hopes of extending a dominant run that this year was approaching a decade in length. But, too often, the Mustangs left GSAC finals on a high and fell flat at nationals.
The Mustangs were determined that in the process of making history this year they would not repeat history. So – while a conference title was important, and they knew it wouldn’t come easy – they planned to apply a more-controlled approach at conference finals, structuring their workouts toward succeeding on the sport’s biggest stage.
In the end, TMU’s depth overwhelmed its conference opponents Friday at Irvine Regional Park. Senior Stephen Pacheco claimed the GSAC individual title and Master’s earned five of the race’s top nine spots, earning a commanding victory and the program’s 10th straight conference title.
“We haven’t been here for all 10,” Pacheco said. “We’re trying to carry on a legacy. It’s respect to everyone who has participated.”
Pacheco finished with a time of 25 minutes, 36 seconds, helping the Mustangs outscore second-place Hope International, 25-76.
Wesley Methum (third place), Justin Harris (fifth place), Davis Boggess (seventh) and Josh Nunez (ninth) rounded out the Mustangs’ top five.
TMU’s Brint Laubach (11th) and Golden Valley grad Daniel Rush (14th) also finished in the top 14, earning All-GSAC honors.
“We just wanted to stay in the front and stay as a team,” Pacheco said, “that was the goal the whole time, and of course we snagged the 10th title. That’s what we’ve worked so hard for. I’m very thankful our team was able to do that.”
The Mustangs – 11 of whom moved to Boggess’ hometown of Flagstaff over the summer to train as a group – earned the GSAC’s automatic berth to nationals with Friday’s win. They were ranked No. 9 in the most recent NAIA Top 25 but have risen as high as No. 4 this season.
Their goal from the beginning has been to be among the top four in the end.
“If you go out as a competitor and all that matters is that we win conference, and you win conference, then you’ll be like, ‘We have accomplished what we needed to,'” Schroeder said. “‘… If you’ve already achieved what you wanted, it’s easy to let up.’”
Women send one to nationals
TMU women’s cross country came away with at least three highlights from its time at the Golden State Athletic Conference Championships at Irvine Regional Park on Friday.
For one, freshman Kimberly Page earned All-GSAC honors.
For two, sophomore Arianna Ghiorso earned All-GSAC honors.
Finally, Ghiorso’s third-place finish means she will be returning to NAIA nationals for the second time in as many years.
The Mustangs finished fourth as a team under dry, hot conditions, with Ghiorso leading the way in a time of 18 minutes, 38 seconds, and Page serving as the next Mustang to cross the finish line, coming in 12th place.
Autumn Nootbaar (24th), Golden Valley grad Brooke Milam (25th) and Libbie Jorgensen (32nd) rounded out the Mustangs’ top five.
“Kimberly earning All-GSAC as a freshman is exciting,” Schroeder said.
For Ghiorso, it wasn’t exactly the finish she was looking for. She was hoping to win the individual title, but knew she’d have to contend with a top-heavy field that featured the NAIA’s reigning marathon national champion and a pair of talented Vanguard runners.
In the end, William Jessup’s Bailey Cossentine, the marathoner, took home the individual crown in a time of 18:29. Vanguard’s Marissa Thompson – whom Ghiorso has gone back-and-forth within head-to-head meetings this season – came in second (18:33.9) – roughly five seconds ahead of Ghiorso.
Ghiorso also finished third at last year’s conference finals, earning her first trip to nationals. Now she’s headed back.
“I was definitely disappointed with the outcome,” Ghiorso said, “but I’m still grateful for the race I had and am looking forward to the opportunity for a better race at nationals.”
NAIA nationals for the men and women will be November 22 in Vancouver, Washington.
For more info on Master’s Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.