Pioneer cross-country on fire; Has chance to capture NCCAA title

 

The Pioneer men and women’s cross-country teams are preparing to head to Cedarville University this coming Saturday to compete in the NCCAA National Championships.

Senior Ashton Avery, center, runs in a pack with her teammates at the Akron Invitational earlier this fall. (Photo courtesy of Andy Smith)

After a “slow start” (statistically, but not compared to their competition) both the men’s and women’s teams have picked up the pace, coming in first place in each of their last three meets, including capturing the Ohio Independent Championships.

The goal of each team is to run with confidence while running as a team at the same time. The transition from NAIA to Division II wasn’t easy, but the teams have been giving it their all.

“It’s been a tough transition from NAIA to DII, but I think we have handled it well and we will find out what we have at NCCAA National Championships,” senior runner Ashton Avery said.

[pullquote]Coach Reneker has been a true blessing to the team,” Avery said.[/pullquote]

The expectations for the Pioneers, on both sides, are high as usual as they enter this weekend’s national meet with the possibility of taking home the title.

“Realistically, we have a shot to win with both teams,” legendary cross-country head coach Jack Hazen said.

A couple of the tougher teams that the Pioneers will have to compete against will be newcomers such as California Baptist University and The Master’s College as well as former long-time conference foe Cedarville University. Master’s College and California Baptist are both in the same boat as Malone as they are making the jump from NAIA to NCAA Division II.

The two teams from California will have better times throughout the year, but traveling east to Cedarville for NCCAA Nationals will be a benefit to the Pioneers.

“We run on grass here and they run on packed dirt out west, which gives them a little bit of an advantage,” Hazen said.

Another positive Malone has working for them is that they are trending in the right direction and peaking at the right time.

“Our conditioning program is set up for our runners to build up to their fastest times at the end of the season heading into Nationals,” Hazen said.

During the Akron Invitational at Firestone Metro Parks the men's cross-country runs together in a tight pack. Lately the men, along with the women, have started to see the fruits of their labor as they have won their last three meets. (Photo courtesy of Andy Smith)

Lately the team has been running harder and shorter distances in order to prepare. Their last “tough” workout was this past Friday. The week leading up to Nationals will be all “recovery running” so the teams can strengthen their legs and be as rested as possible heading into the tournament.

One of the reasons the Pioneers have been running so well lately could be the installment of their new training program.

In the past they used a model that had the team running hard early and tapering off miles at the end. This year, instead, they have switched gears a bit as they implemented a progressive conditioning program, which had the team running harder and harder each week.

The man who installed this new training method is new assistant coach Matthew Reneker, an expert on athletic training and the body. Undoubtedly, a lot of the credit as to why the Pioneers are running so well goes to him.

“Coach Reneker has been a true blessing to the team,” Avery said.

The Pioneers will participate in the NCCAA National Championships this coming Saturday, Nov. 12, in Cedarville, OH at 11 a.m.

Matt Anderson is a staff writer for Aviso AVW.

Chris Sherwood is sports editor for Aviso AVW.

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