The University of Southern Indiana men's cross country team and women's cross country senior Julia Kohnen (Florissant, Missouri) will be running for national championships Saturday when they toe the line at the NCAA Division II Championships at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky.
USI's men, who fell five spots to No. 10 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association Top 25 poll, are looking to rebound from a disappointing third-place finish at the NCAA II Midwest Region Championships two weeks ago.
Despite getting a first-place finish from senior Tyler Pence (Springfield, Illinois), who earned his first Midwest Region Runner of the Year honor, and a fifth-place showing from GLVC Runner of the Year Johnnie Guy (Palmyra, Indiana), the Screaming Eagles lost to No. 7 Malone University by 10 points and to top-ranked Grand Valley State University by 58 points.
USI needs strong efforts from both Pence and Guy if it is going to challenge for a team title Saturday. Guy finished ninth at the NCAA II Championships a year ago and is the reigning NCAA II champion in the 10,000 meters on the track. Pence, a two-time All-American in indoor track & field, did not finish the national meet a year ago, but was in the top 20 with about 400 meters to go before passing out.
If the Eagles are going to contend for a title, they'll also need strong finishes from senior Hunter Motz (Wadesville, Indiana), junior Tyler Schickel (Poseyville, Indiana), sophomore Noah Lutz (Evansville, Indiana), sophomore Jason Head (New Salisbury, Indiana), and senior Solomon Bennett (Henderson, Nevada).
Of the five aforementioned runners, only Lutz was on the Eagles' team that finished 11th at the national meet last year. Lutz was USI's No. 3 finisher, placing 94th in the 248-competitor field. He was 36th at the NCAA II Midwest Regional two weeks ago.
Schickel had success on the track last spring, where he earned All-America honors in both indoor and outdoor track & field. He was 32nd at the regional meet.
Motz is running in his first national meet in a USI uniform, but he was a two-time NJCAA national qualifier on the cross country course at Vincennes University, where he finished 45th as a freshman in 2011. Motz was USI's No. 3 finisher at the regional meet, placing 27th overall.
Also making their first appearances at a national meet in a USI uniform is Head and Bennett. Head was 38th at the regional meet, while Bennett finished 44th. Bennett was an NJCAA All-America in the 1,500 meters at Paradise Valley Community College.
Kohnen, who is competing in her first year of cross country after four years on the USI women's soccer team, finished fifth at the Midwest Region meet to secure a spot as an individual at the national meet. The NCAA II Midwest Region Championships was arguably the toughest region meet in the country as seven nationally-ranked teams competed at the event, including No. 1 Grand Valley State and No. 5 Hillsdale College.
Saturday's 10-kilometer men's race is slated to begin at 10 a.m. (CST), while the women's 6k is scheduled for an 11:15 a.m. start. Live results and live video can be accessed at gousieagles.com. Tickets for the event are $5 per person.
The NCAA II Cross Country Championships are held in conjunction with the Division II Fall Sports Festival, which includes the NCAA II championships for men's and women's soccer, field hockey, and volleyball.