Columbia College's inaugural cross-country team wins the AMC Championship and heads to Nationals.
By Whitney Dreier
Photos by Matt Koch
Three days before the Cougars competed in their first-ever American Midwest Conference Championship meet, cross country redshirt Lindsey Jo Martin posted an inspirational photo on her team's Facebook page. She'd seen the image – of a handwritten poster – on Twitter. It read:
Passing out? You'll live.
Not being able to breathe? You can when you're done.
Feeling the pain? It'll eventually go away.
Not being strong enough to finish? You'll find strength in the end.
Are you afraid of the competition? You are your biggest opponent.
Whatever it is, don't be afraid to get out there & compete. Because as soon as you cross that finish line, you should know you have nothing life.
Be fearless from start to finish.
"When you run, you face a great amount of physical exhaustion, but what's even more challenging is the internal struggle you face as the little voice inside your head tells you to give up," says Martin, a sophomore transfer student. "We are constantly having to remind ourselves of the sayings on that poster – that you must be fearless every step of a race because in the end, it'll be worth it."
And in the end, it was worth it. On Nov. 2, the seven-person Columbia College men's cross-country team won the AMC title at the Cole County Fairgrounds in Jefferson City, Mo. Four runners placed in the top 10, earning first-team all-conference honors, including freshman Cody Gorham, who led the team with a fourth-place finish. The Rayville, Mo., native completed the 8K course in 27:10.2 and was rewarded with AMC Freshman of the Year honors.
Cameron Schmitz and Devin Sander followed Gorham in fifth and sixth places with times of 27:25 and 27:29 respectively. Michael McCulloch finished eighth overall with a time of 27:46; Jason Thurman placed 13th in 28:19; Damon Goodall came in 17th in 28:51; and Jordan Andrews was 20th in a time of 29:16.
“Coach Cornell is an extraordinary coach, and he absolutely deserved getting Coach of the Year at Conference. He has already taken this team so far, and I know that he will only continue to make us better and better every year.” – Sophomore cross-country runner Lindsey Martin"The men's team has really thrown a curveball to the AMC winning conference in our first year as a team and beating out Park University, a program that has seen a lot of success over the years," says Martin, who watched from the sidelines. "To do that with seven freshmen says a lot about how tough those guys are; they really worked hard all season to reach that goal."
The Cougar men defeated Park University by only one point; other participating schools included Benedictine Springfield University, Hannibal-LaGrange University, Missouri Baptist University, Stephens College and William Woods University.
"Our goal was to show the American Midwest Conference that Columbia College is here to stay," says Head Coach Tim Cornell. "The conference is strong, but the athletic tradition and level of support at CC has allowed this team to compete at a very high level in year one. That being said, there is always room for growth and this team will improve during the coming years as we mature and continue to build the program."
As a team, the Cougar women placed fourth overall in their 5K race. Individually, freshman Julia Montgomery ran a 20:08 to finish eighth and earn first-team all-conference honors. Emily Shultz finished 13th with a time of 20:52, followed by Julia Collins (21:04) in 17th, Kelsey Baldwin (21:54) in 21st and Kelsey Jacques (24:12) in 31st.
Cornell calls the AMC meet a "fantastic start" for a young team that's worked hard all season to come together as a cohesive unit. "This victory will show fans, opponents, recruits and anyone who is watching that this is a program worth paying attention to," he says. "A team comprised almost entirely of freshmen is both exciting and challenging; this group has come together as one, quickly learning about the rigors of college racing and performing admirably."
As AMC champions, the Cougar men and Julia Montgomery will travel to Vancouver, Wash., to compete in the NAIA National Championship meet on Nov. 17. "Coming into the season I didn't even think qualifying for Nationals was a possibility, so making it there as a freshman is very exciting for me," Montgomery says. "I've never been to Washington before, and I am excited to compete in such a large race." The Blue Springs, Mo., native hopes to break her personal best time of 19:32.
The 57th annual men's and 33rd annual women's National Championships will be held at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, and 32 teams will compete in both races. Cornell says his goals for the meet are task oriented. "I want the team to have a positive experience and take this opportunity to learn how to travel, sleep in a hotel, not be intimidated by the moment – and still compete at a very high level," he explains. "If we can race well while controlling those outside factors, I will be pleased."
The National Championship awards ceremony will be streamed live at approximately 2:30 p.m. PST on Nov. 17 at NAIA.org. In the meantime, "thank you to the families, friends, students, alumni, staff and faculty who have come out to support us during our inaugural campaign," Cornell says. "Columbia College does an exceptional job of creating a support system for its athletes; what we do would not be possible without them."