BUCKINGHAM, Fla.- One goal down, two more to go this season for the Lipscomb Lady Bisons cross country team.
Saturday morning in Buckingham, Fla., the Lady Bisons placed six runners in the top 15 on the way to their second consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference Championship.
The pace for the team was set by Dani Walker with a third place finish in a time of 17:26. Tessa Hoefle was close behind in fifth with a time of 17:38.9. Both Walker and Hoefle earned first team all-conference honors.
“Dani had a strong finish,” Lipscomb coach Bill Taylor said. “Tessa was actually ahead of her through the middle of the race. They helped each other at various points.
“Early on most of our women were together and in great position. Tessa, Dani, Maddie and Kendra were working together. Minna and Kellie were really close. Maggie tripped at about 1000 meters and spent the rest of the race catching up and passing people. Even when our packs broke up we had a lot of two or three girl groups working together, fighting for positions together.”
Taylor was named A-Sun Coach of the year.
Kendra Lobley finished in ninth (17:55.5) followed by Madelin Talbert in 11th (17:59.7), Maggie Lawrence in 12th (18:00.3) and Minna Fields in 14th (18:01.5). All four earned second team all-conference.
Taylor stressed the importance of his runners working together as a pack.
“It was strong,” Taylor said. “We did a good job early. We can actually do better.
“But our ability to work together was definitely a big factor today. I think six All A-Sun honors ties the record for most from one team.”
Rounding out the finishers for the Lady Bisons were Missy Dowd in 21st (18:26.9), Kellie Foley in 25th (18:50) and Kaitlyn Llewellyn in 46th (19:41.1).
"Obviously we are very happy,” Taylor said. “It's a mix of joy and relief really.
“It's very different than last year when we won our first ever. It's hard psychologically to defend your title. I'm so proud of the way the girls handled everything. What an amazing team!”
The championship run proved to be a two-team race as North Florida, which had alternated at times this season with the Lady Bisons at the top of the conference poll, finished second. Both teams finished well ahead of the rest of the field.
The Lady Bisons became the first team outside of the state of Florida since 1986 to win the A-Sun Championship when the race was held in Florida.
Taylor was frustrated by pre-race speculation that course location had played a role in the Lady Bisons winning last season with the championships being held on the Percy Warner Park course.
"North Florida is a very tough team and their performances this season certainly motivated us coming into this championship,” Taylor said. “This was especially satisfying because we have been hearing for a year that a reason we won last year was because we raced on our home course.
“It was even noted in some of our competition’s press releases Friday before this meet. We have an incredible team and whether we race on our home course or in Florida, we are always going to be tough. I don't want anyone to take anything away from what these girls are accomplishing. It turns out we proved that last year was our talent and the team, not the course.”
The Lady Bisons finished first on the course, the home course for Florida Gulf Coast, to open the cross country season. One of the primary motivations for entering that race was get a preview of what to expect in the conference championships.
“Well, running the preview gave us a few ideas about the course,” Taylor said. “I think it mostly gave us a feel for the sandy surface and the long straight stretches on this course. I'm not sure the result would be any different, but it definitely didn't hurt to run here already.”
The next competition for the Lady Bisons is the NCAA I Southeast Regional Championships in Tallahassee, Fla., at Florida State University Nov. 9.
“Our women can run even better still,” Taylor said. “Today wasn't our best possible effort by any means.
“We still have some things to work on to be an elite team. I don't know how far we can get on that in two weeks, but we are going to try. Our ultimate goal for this program is the NCAA Nationals"
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations for Athletics