Posted: Nov 04, 2017
The first-year Sandhills men's and women's cross country teams capped an exciting season of achievements by capturing top 10 finishes at the NJCAA Division III National Championships in Westfield, Mass. on Saturday.
The Flyers' Daniel Taylor was the runner-up in the 8K men's race after Abshir Yerow of Onondaga CC nipped him by 1.1 seconds. The Flyer men placed third behind seven-time champion Harper College (Ill.) and second place Suffolk CC (N.Y.).
Harper College also topped the women's field with the Lady Flyers finishing eighth led by Karen Munoz in 43rd place on the 5K course.
Leading up to the national championships, the Flyer men finished second three times in four events and the Lady Flyers were competitive each time out.
Chatting with Taylor in the bleachers at the athletic field on campus on Monday, Coach Jef Moody recalled the very first practice that was attended by the Union Pines graduate and two others about one year ago.
"To see what happened in less than a year is pretty cool," he said "The goal every year is to win it all. If we are to win it all, this bunch will have laid the foundation for all the teams to come. To a lady and to a man, everybody left it all on the course and that's all you can ask for."
The team headed north last Thursday, interrupting the 14 hour journey to work out briefly at a middle school in Hamden, Connecticut.
"We Drove through D.C. on the way and that was cool for me because I'm majoring in political science and I'd never seen D.C. before," Taylor said. "We had a great view of New York City."
On Friday the team familiarized itself with the wooded course at Stanley Park located about 90 miles west of Boston. There was also a banquet that evening. At the event Taylor and Moody were recognized by the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as the East Region Runner and Women's Coach of the year respectively.
Taylor was also honored as the NJCAA Division III Cross Country Athlete of the Week after winning the Monarch CC Classic in September. The men's championship race on Saturday began at 10 a.m. and he was nervous.
"I really didn't know what to expect," he said. "At the regional meet I started trying to run with the front pack so I couldn't get boxed in and could compete all the way through so that's what I did. To my surprise I started out in front and thought, 'wow I'm right where I need to be'."
At about the 400 meter mark Yerow held the lead. Taylor caught up about 15 meters from the finish line, but was beaten narrowly in the final sprint.
Nearby, Sandhills athletic director Aaron Denton watched the drama unfold.
"I'm feeling the hair stand up on the back of my neck thinking about Daniel and all he's done and all he's put into it," he recalled. "I actually thought he'd win because I know who Daniel is. But it didn't matter how he finished I was just proud."
Taylor, who earned All-American honors for his performance, is going to use the close call to motivate him when he runs distance events for the Flyer track team in the spring.
"It was a great experience and better than anything I thought I'd ever achieve," he said. "But I always want to win. I'll use that to motivate me not to let that happen again."
Daniel Hagan, Chance Goodman, Jordan Anneheim and Andrew Bowen all finished in the top 47 of the 203 runners with personal record times to help the Flyers win the third place trophy.
"We came unranked and had to show people who we are," Hagan said. "Now we are out hunting for more."
Also watching were the Lady Flyers as they prepared for their race to begin at 11:15.
"It was chilly and I was very nervous," said Munoz who was the top finisher for the Flyers in all of the previous meets. "The girls were definitely motivated by the guys to do their best. They gave their all so we wanted to do the same. I told the ladies let's make Coach Moody proud like the guys made him proud. There were a lot of emotions taking place."
They were still there at the end as the team results were being announced. All seven ladies posted personal best times.
"When they called out 'eighth place, Sandhills', Izzy (McNeil) and Sara (Lindell) instantly had tears of joy come down," Moody recalled.
As Munoz was getting off the bus at Sandhills on Sunday, it struck her how much the experience meant.
"I thought 'wow, I'm really going to miss cross country and my team more than I thought I would'", she said. "I'm proud of all of us, especially our guys who did amazing. And for us being in the top 10 in the nation is amazing."
Ever the master motivator, Moody has made a special request to his athletic director.
"I asked Coach Denton is to get me a picture of the Harper team so I can hang it in the locker room and we can walk by it every day," he said. "So we can keep our focus on what is going on.
"I wrote on my Facebook page that Sandhills is the best new team in America and I really believe that. They proved it. I love this team."
Regarding the season, Denton added, "I don't know if you would say storybook, but it's the closest word I can think of."
Men - Top 10 Teams – 1. Harper College 84, 2. Suffolk CC 100, 3. Sandhills CC 129, 4. Kingsborough CC 177, 5. Middlesex CC 204, 6. Raritan Valley CC 217, 7. Onondaga CC 226, 8. Nassau CC 244, 9. Mohawk Valley CC 272, 10. Oxford College of Emory U 333; Individuals – 1. Abshir Yerow (Onondaga) 26:24.8; Sandhills Results – 2. Daniel Taylor 26:25.9, 22. Daniel Hagan 27:35.6, 25. Chance Goodman 27:39.2, 41. Jordan Anneheim 28:32.0, 47. Andrew Bowen 28:42.2, 85. Jaime Torres 29:58.0, 86. Isaiah McGilvary 29:58.1.
Women – Top 10 Teams – 1. Harper College 24, 2. Oxford College of Emory U 82, 3. Kingsborough CC 122, 4. Fashion Institute of Tech 147, 5. Lorian County CC 175, 6. Herkimer CCC 195, 7. Mohawk Valley CC 197, 8. Sandhills CC 203, 9. Georgia Military College 204, 10. Westmoreland College 226; Individuals – 1. Chyanna Bernier (Herkimer CC) 18:43.7; Sandhills Results – 43. Karen Munoz 22:03.2, 69. Enya Dewars 23:11.7, 74. Anjel Rowe 23:41.3, 75. Sara Lindell 23:41.9, 87. Izzabella McNeil 24:08.1, 97. Yesica Upson 24:51.1, 114. Caitlin Blue 25:54.2.
By Charlie Bergmann.