By: Mike DeVader, Communications & Sports Information Intern
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — (Team Qualifiers | Individual Qualifiers) The field is set and teams are ready to run in the 35th Annual NAIA Women's Cross Country National Championships on Saturday, hosted by the Lawrence Sports Corporation and the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC).
The 5-kilometer women's championship will begin at 10:30 a.m. CST on Saturday, followed by the men's 8-kilometer race at 11:45 a.m. CST. The Championships Award Ceremony will be held at Abe and Jake's Landing in Lawrence, Kan., and will begin at approximately 2:30 p.m.
The championship is made up of 84 individuals representing 37 teams and 22 conferences, Association of Independent Institutions (A.I.I.) and unaffiliated grouping champions; two conference, association of independent institutions, and unaffiliated grouping runners-ups; a host bid (Ottawa (Kan.)); and 11 at-large selections.
Biola (Calif.), Cal State San Marcos, Carroll (Mont.), College of Idaho, Indiana Tech, Indiana Wesleyan,
Oklahoma City, Oregon Tech, Southern Oregon, Texas Wesleyan and The Master's (Calif.) were the at-large selections. Each of the at-large selections was ranked in the final regular-season Top 25 Poll, which can be found here.
At-large berths were awarded to the highest-ranked schools in the 2014 NAIA Women's Cross Country Coaches' Top 25 Poll who did not win their conference championship.
For the results from the conference, Association of Independent Institutions and unaffiliated grouping meets, click here.
Headlining the competition is two-time defending national champion No. 1-ranked British Columbia. The Thunderbirds – who are the top-ranked school for the last seven editions of the 2014 NAIA Women's Cross Country Coaches' Top 25 Poll – come to Rim Rock Farm looking to grab its third-straight national crown. Three-straight national championships was last accomplished in 2011 by Cal State San Marcos, also of the A.I.I.
If the Thunderbirds fly away with another title, the A.I.I. will own the last six banners. Former NAIA-member Azusa Pacific (Calif.) of the Golden State Athletic Conference was the last non-A.I.I. school to earn a championship.
Last season, British Columbia went wire-to-wire being the top-ranked team. The season was capped with a second title in-a-row, as the Thunderbirds flew away from second-place College of Idaho. Led by NAIA All-American Maria Bernard – who finished the 2013 championship in third-place with a 5K finish of 17:18 – British Columbia finished the event in a combined 1:30:36 and 56 points; 41 points ahead of second.
Bernard could be the odds-on favorite to take home the individual title, as she is the highest-returning finisher from last year.
British Columbia has set itself up nicely to mirror the school's 2013 efforts by dominating the competition at the Association of Independent Institutions Championships in Clinton, Iowa, on Nov. 8 The Thunderbirds placed seven athletes in the top 10, finishing with 18 points. Conference rival No. 5 Cal State San Marcos finished second.
Dating back to 1999, No. 2 Dordt (Iowa) has been in its highest ranking in program history for four-consecutive editions of the Top 25, and comes to Lawrence looking to challenge the Thunderbirds. The Defenders flexed their muscles in the Great Plains Athletic Conference Championships on Saturday by running away with the team title. Dordt completed the 5-K race with 26 total points and a combined team time of 1:31:27 (18:17 average).
Senior Lauren Opp and junior Kayla Byl look to carry the Defenders' torch on Saturday. Both athletes are returning to Rim Rock in hopes of upping their finish from a year ago. Opp was the highest-finishing Dordt runner, coming in 16th. Byl finished in 46th-position.
College of Idaho looks to build on its second-place finish in the 2013 national championships. NAIA All-American Hillary Holt captured the individual title with a time of 16:48, 11 seconds in front.
Eight conference champions within the top 10 of the Nov. 9 release of the Top 25 will be present in Lawrence Kan., to vie for No. 1. Fifth-ranked Cal State San Marcos and No. 6 Carroll Mont., carry at-large berths into the championships.
Winners of the conference, A.I.I. and unaffiliated grouping meets received automatic berths to the national championships. To view the results, click here.
Built in 1974, Rim Rock Farm has been home to the 2013 NAIA National Championships, three Big Eight Championships (1983, 1991 and 1995), the NCAA Division I and II Championships (1998), two Big 12 Championship (2006, 2014) and dozens of high school state championships.
For all other information regarding the Women's Cross Country National Championships, click here.