Milligan men’s and women’s cross country team capture first-ever national championships

College Sports

The Milligan Buffaloes men’s cross country team captured Friday’s NAIA National Cross Country Championship in Vancouver, Wash. It was the team’s first national title.

Photo: Milligan University Athletics

VANCOUVER, Wash. (WJHL) – Milligan University took home both team titles at the NAIA National Cross Country Championships Friday and sophomore Alyssa Bearzi won the individual women’s championship in 18:14.9.

The third-ranked men’s team won by a wide margin over runner up University of St. Mary (Kansas) to capture its first-ever national championship after a third-place finish at last season’s championship.

Minutes later, the second-ranked women took to the course and put Bearzi and graduate transfer Lemi Wutz both in the top 5 on their way to a 19-point win over top-ranked St. Francis of Illinois.

The teams produced seven All-American performances between them, four by the men and three by the women.

Men run away with it

The men’s team placed four runners in the top 30 to finish a full 60 points better than St. Mary, with the Buffaloes scoring 115 points to St. Mary’s 175.

The lowest team score wins in cross country and the top five runners on each team, out of seven competing, comprise the score. Unattached runners that qualify don’t count toward team points, meaning points can be lower than a team member’s individual finish.

Sophomore Aaron Jones led the team on the 8-kilometer course with a time of 25:21.3, good for 11th place overall and 9th in the scoring. Just three spots behind overall was senior Nathan Baker, who finished in 25:29.1 and was 12th in the scoring.

Also in the top 30 were Eli Cramer, a sophomore, and graduate student Will Stockley. Cramer was 21st (18th in scoring) in 25:40 and Stockley 27th (24th) in 25:47.1.

In last year’s third-place team showing, Jones finished eighth overall, Baker 11th and Cramer 27th.

Rounding out the scoring for Milligan was junior Jake Crow, who finished in 26:14.3, good for 58th overall and 53rd in scoring. Only 53 seconds separated the top five Milligan runners, while St. Mary had a spread of 1:20 between its first and fifth-place scorers.

The 59 points separating Milligan from St. Mary was more than the total difference between the St. Mary and the third and fourth-place teams.

St. Mary’s 175 score was just 11 points ahead of third-place Indiana Wesleyan’s 186, 40 points better than fourth-place St. Francis (Ill.) and 47 better than fifth-place College of Idaho.

In the final season top 25 poll, St. Mary and St. Francis were ranked first and second, ahead of Milligan.

Also running for the men’s team were freshman Bryn Woodall, who finished 131st in 27:00.4, and senior Alex Mortimer, who was 156th in 27:12.1.

Bearzi blazes last kilometer

Neither Bearzi nor Wutz ran on last season’s team that finished seventh nationally, but they led the way, running together in the top four from the second kilometer of the 5K race to the finish.

At the four-kilometer mark they were three and four seconds off the pace set by Brescia’s Breanna Alderton and Embry-Riddle Arizona’s Ariana Anderson.

Bearzi, from Seabrook, Australia, turned it on in the final kilometer to pass a fading Anderson, who fell all the way to 26th, and Alderton, who finished third.

She held off a hard-charging Sydney Little Light of Rocky Mountain, who moved from sixth to second and was 1.9 seconds behind Bearzi.

Wutz, who is from Vienna, Austria, faded a bit in the final kilometer to finish fifth (fourth in scoring) in 18:29.4, 15 seconds behind her teammate.

Avery Dewolf, who led the team at last year’s championships, joined Bearzi and Wutz as All-Americans with an 11th-place finish (10th in points) in 18:38.2. It was the senior’s second straight All-American performance after a sixth-place finish at last season’s COVID-delayed championship in April.

Those three helped Milligan to a team score of 122, 19 points better than runner-up St. Francis.

The other scorers for the women’s team were junior Caitlin Dominy, who finished 61st (48th in points) with a time of 19:17.7 and sophomore Gracie Allen of Kingsport, who was 73rd (59th) in 19:24.6.

The women also ran Gabrielle Mardis, a senior from Johnson City who scored third on the team at last year’s nationals, and Ali Burns, a junior from Johnson City. Mardis finished 11 seconds behind Allen in 19:35.8, good for 95th, and Burns ran a 21:15.1, finishing 284th.

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