First the tears, then the joy.
The Newman University men’s and women’s cross country teams ran the gamut of emotions on Saturday at the Heartland Conference Championship at Cessna Activity Center, starting with Rubi Torres’ upset loss in the women’s 5 kilometers and ending with the Newman men taking home the team championship thanks to a glut of runners at the front of the pack.
Newman sophomore and Andale product Jacob Wallace led the men’s team with a third-place finish in the 8K – finishing with a time of 25 minute, 45.43 seconds – and was followed quickly by Kenneth Kimani (fifth), Nick Martin (sixth), Joey Kenneson (seventh) and Kenton Weber (10th), giving the Jets five runners in the top 10 and their second team title in three years after winning it all in 2012. Oklahoma Christian was second.
Torres finished third, behind Texas A&M-International freshman Rebekah Hernandez and Dallas Baptist’s Anna Salazar. Newman also finished third as a team, with Dallas Baptist winning the team title.
“The team title ... that’s just awesome, that’s what I’ve been looking for the last two years,” Wallace said. “It’s the best feeling in the world when you finish with all you had, even though I was third, and you see all your teammates coming in behind you. Best feeling ever.”
Rogers State’s Baylor Harvey was the men’s individual champion with a time of 24:45.58. Oklahoma Christian’s Bryant Keirns, a Campus High product, was second overall for the second straight year with a time of 24:48.83.
The race played out largely in open stretches and exposed runners to a brutal, cold wind, save for about a half-mile stretch in a wooded area. Wallace actually had the lead for a large part of the race before falling behind Harvey and Keirns.
“There was really no escape from the wind today,” Wallace said. “It totally changed the race … you were fighting it every step of the way. I lost (Harvey) on the backstretch, when the wind hit me, and I was just powerless to it. About four of the five miles were just out in the open.”
The wind got the best of Torres in the women’s race as the presumptive favorite — she was named the Heartland’s runner of the week six times this season and was already a three-time all-conference selection.
She tried to change her strategy from a successful year and it backfired. Hernandez won with a time of 22:03. Torres finished at 22:43.
“I’m used to coming out, leading the race and relying on my speed,” Torres said after an emotional postrace scene with coaches and teammates. “I tried to tuck behind someone because of the wind, so I could conserve energy, so I wasn’t running at my own pace or own speed ... it wasn’t what I was comfortable doing.
“I was trying to retain energy, hang onto someone else’s speed instead of relying on my own speed ... trying to save it for the last mile. It’s difficult because I was running great races, getting great times and ended up in a fight against the wind, along with a fight against a lot of other really talented runners.”
Next up for the Jets is an NCAA Division II Regional in Denver on Nov. 22.
“I’ve got a couple of weeks to get back to work,” Torres said. “Hopefully I can make up for falling short today with a good performance at the regional.”