Coming into the season, the Shippensburg University men and women’s cross-country teams had lofty goals to end with a strong finish at the NCAA Division II Nationals. The road to nationals ran through Kutztown University first, though.
Kutztown hosted the 2016 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championships on Oct. 22, where the men’s and women’s teams were able to come out on top. The effort included some incredible individual performances that led them to victory.
For the women’s team, senior Casey Norton came away with the individual title. Norton edged Seton Hill University’s Chelsia Poole in a photo finish that Norton won on an appeal. Norton covered the 6K course with a time of 22:17.9. This marked the 12th-consecutive time that Norton was SU’s No. 1 runner.
The win marked Norton’s first individual PSAC title, and the first by a member of the SU women’s team since Katie Spratford in 2011.
“I was so happy for Casey,” coach Steve Spence said. “She has paid her dues and bided her time until it was her turn and she seized the moment. She could have given up and settled for second, but she kept pushing and was not going to be denied down the stretch.”
Other strong-finishers on the women’s team included Caity Reese and Bree Dissinger. Reese finished fifth overall with a time of 22:49. Dissinger finished in seventh-place with a time of 22:56.
“Our Top 6 women were impressive with the improvements that they made from last year, especially Caity Reese and Bree Dissinger,” Spence said. “Equally impressive was the late response of Lindsey Gerlach, Jackie Kinkhead and Lizzie Manickas.”
Spence was particularly proud of Gerlach, Kinkhead and Manickas’ ability to close.
“I implored them to close the gap on Bloomsburg’s four and five runners in the latter stages of the race,” Spence said. “They finished the race well and sealed the victory.”
For the women, the win marked the eighth time in history that the SU women’s cross-country team was named PSAC champions.
The women’s victory marked the 10th-straight year that SU has finished among the PSAC’s Top 3 teams at the championships. SU finished third in each of the last three years after a run of six-straight league championships.
The women’s team narrowly beat out Bloomsburg University’s team for the title. SU finished first with 50 points; Bloomsburg finished in second place with 60 points.
For the men, it was an equally successful day. The men’s team finished the day with the second PSAC championship in school history.
Kieran Sutton was the top finisher for the men’s squad, finishing the 8K course with a time of 25:56.2. Sutton finished third overall. Braden Bruning and Alex Balla finished narrowly behind Sutton, finishing sixth and seventh overall, respectively.
“Braden Bruning had his best race of the season, and his finishing kick helped to seal the race for the men,” Spence said. “I feel that it was an excellent effort for Robert Moser, who at 19th was the second freshman in the field. Also, it was an excellent effort by Michael Urban to place 25th and earn All-PSAC honors as a first-year collegiate runner.”
The men’s team edged out Lock Haven University with 47 points. Lock Haven finished with 54 points.
The Bald Eagles of Lock Haven were aiming for their fourth-straight PSAC championship, but the Raiders placed their Top 6 runners in the Top 20.
For both teams, this moves them one step closer to accomplishing their goals at regionals and nationals. Spence noted that this is not the end of journey.
“Today was a confidence boost and the results confirm that we are on track for where we want to be at the end of the season,” Spence said. “I pointed out to our teams that history is not on our side going into the regional meet. Last year’s PSAC team champs both finished second at the regionals meet. We still have a lot of work to do between now and NCAAs, and our teams seem to be excited for the challenge.”
The Raiders will have two weeks to prepare for regionals, which will take place Nov. 5, at Slippery Rock University.