Men’s Cross Country Cap 2011 Season with Nationals Run
Armed with a history of success and a solid core of returners, the Berea College Cross Country team hit the trails this fall determined to write yet another chapter in the storied tradition of the program. With six national qualifiers returning on the men’s side, the reigning KIAC champions had little trouble claiming their seventh straight title at the conference meet in early November. The men’s squad claimed seven of the top 10 finishing spots, including the top spot, captured by conference Runner of the Year Austin Houchens. National qualifiers included:
- Austin Houchens (2014) – Bowling Green, KY
- Darryll Patrick (2013) – Hamersville, OH
- Scott Kenney (2013) – Russellville, KY; 2011 NAIA Scholar-Athlete
- Jeffrey Johnson (2013) – Austin, IN
- Jakub Lonsky (2014) – Dolny Kubin, Slovakia
- Tarrance O’Connor (2014) – Warsaw, KY
The conference championship earned the Mountaineers an automatic berth in the NAIA National Championships, which was held November 19th at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington. They were joined by female individual qualifier Shaina Mason (Pisgah Forest, NC). While the path to qualify for the trip to Vancouver proved easy for the team this season, actually arriving there became very difficult. An early morning flight from Louisville was delayed by engine problems and caused the team to miss their connecting flight in Chicago. Forced to split up, the group arrived out west in waves, making a long trip even longer and disrupting the squad’s pre-race routine and training. The lack of sleep and increased levels of stress wore slightly on the eight runners but, upon arriving in Vancouver, they quickly turned their attention to the “rolling, European-style” loop ahead of them.
On race day, the Mountaineers finished just shy of a top 25 spot, posting a team time of 2:18:25. That time proved good enough for 27th place and a jump of two spots from their 2010 finish. Senior Jarrett Blankenship (Bowling Green, KY) feels this is an indication of just where the program is headed. “I think that we are transitioning Berea College Cross Country into a national powerhouse,” said Blankenship in an interview shortly after the team returned from Washington. “Despite only jumping 2 spots from nationals last year, we are making leaps and bounds for our program.” Blankenship is quick to credit the work ethic of the team’s members, pointing out the fact that the seven national qualifiers put in “50-90 miles per week” during the summer. Those workouts were enhanced this fall by assistant coach Shawn Jakubowski, who Blankenship says designs “workouts that others can only dream of”.
Blankenship will graduate this May with a degree in Physical Education. He plans to coach cross country and lead recruiting efforts at a collegiate-level program, following in the footsteps of Berea Head Coach Mike Johnson who, he says, has been like a father to him. The team will miss Blankenship’s leadership; however, Coach Johnson now looks to a stockpiled group of talented runners he has been grooming for several seasons to continue his program’s success. This youth movement keeps the future bright for the Mountaineers. Six of this year’s national qualifiers will return next season, with five of those runners having repeat national experience.