INA, Ill. – Both Isaac Williams and Cecilia Lane had a little more to prove on Saturday than just competing at the NJCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at Rend Lake College.
Williams wanted to show everybody that his Region VI performance could be duplicated. Lane wanted to post a great time to honor her high school coach, who is leaving the sport to advance his military career.
Both Hutchinson Community College runners did what they set out to achieve on Saturday.
Williams placed 39th overall in a field of 350 runners, while Lane broke the 20-minute mark for the second time in her freshman season and placed 47th out of 335 runners.
“Isaac ran the race of his life,” HCC head coach Rod Zook said. “He has ran two great races in a row. He was just magnificent.
“Cecilia got off to just the right start. She didn’t go out too fast and then started marching through people.”
Zook the race conditions were different than expected as the wind kicked up on the fast, but narrow course that put a premium on staying with the front pack and not get buried.
Williams, a sophomore from Pretty Prairie, who finished 201st at nationals last season, posted a time of 27 minutes, 12 seconds on the 8K course to finish in the Top 40, the goal he was personally shooting for.
Lane made it into the front pact and posted the 17th-best team in women’s program history of 19 minutes, 52 seconds on the 5K course.
“The wind slowed the course down,” Zook said. “If you got back at all, there was no way for you to get back.
“Both races went out fast and you had to hold on for dear life. You had so use so much energy to stay out in front and not get buried and then you had to hold on.”
Ashlynn Lambert and Orbelin Rojas both had much tougher starts on Saturday.
Lambert placed 76th with a time of 20:24. Rojas, HCC’s No. 1 men’s runner all season, was sick but still ran. He got off to a slow start, but still battled to a 52nd-place showing and a time of 27:28.
“Ashlynn was probably a little quick out of the block,” Zook said. “I felt bad for O. With him feeling bad, he was way down at the start.”
HCC’s other two runners both finished in the upper division of their races.
Freshman John Murphy III placed 117th with a time of 28:31. Sophomore Diosha Johnson, who had to drop out of last year’s national championship after a mile and be rushed to the hospital, placed 155th in a time of 21:32.
“The kids poured their hearts into it and that’s what we expected,” Zook said. “These are the type of kids I want in this program.”
(HCC Sports Information)
When six members of the Hutchinson Community College men’s and women’s cross country teams take to the course for Saturday’s NJCAA Division I National Cross Country Championships, there will be a little something different going on.
For the first time this season, the Blue Dragons will be running as individuals and not for a team score.
“It won’t be much of a factor,” freshman John Murphy III said. “We are all going to run our same race … running as fast as we can.”
Freshmen Ashlynn Lambert, Cecila Lane and sophomore Diosha Johnson will represent the HCC women in the women’s championship, which begins at 10 a.m. at the Rend Lake Golf Course in Ina, Ill. Then at 11 a.m., sophomore Isaac Williams, Murphy and freshman Orbelin Rojas will compete in the men’s championship.
Because neither team will field a full team, no team score will be posted for the Blue Dragons.
While all admit they are excited and nervous to run in a field of more than 300 of the nation’s best junior college cross country runners, all six go with a purpose of more than just to show up. That was instilled in them by first-year head coach Rod Zook.
“They are there because they are among the best in the nation and I expect them to step up to the line and run,” Zook said. “I expect them to run their best and I will be disappointed if they don’t do their best.”
While none of the six HCC runners have seen the championship course, they are getting good insight to it from assistant coach Justin Riggs, A former HCC runner, Riggs ran at nationals in 2007 on the very course the 2012 championship will be contested on Saturday.
Wednesday’s practice was spent working on the runner’s pace for the Rend Lake course, which according to both Riggs and Zook, favors the group of Blue Dragons.
“It’s a really fast course,” Riggs said. “When I ran, I went out with a 4:50 first mile, which really wasn’t a smart thing to do. I should have done 5:10, 5:15. That’s what’s I’m working on with (the runners).”
“The course is flat and fast,” Zook added. “Justin relaying his information to these runners has been invaluable.”
When the season began, Zook set individual qualifying numbers for his runners to get a chance to run at nationals.
Five made the cut. Johnson was added to the women’s team after just missing the qualifying mark by 7 seconds, but was given a chance after she had to drop out of last year’s national championship and taken to the hospital.
Williams admits the 2011 championship wasn’t his best race. He finished 201st in a 30 minutes, 40.31 seconds.
During first month of his sophomore season, things weren’t progressing like Williams wanted. An injury kept him out of the Emporia State Invitational. After a good run at McPherson College, Williams broke through at Region VI, posting 12th-place All-Region VI time of 26:22.7.
“That was just monstrous,” Zook said of Williams. “He had been running 27s and 28s and then gets injured. To go mid-26, that was big.”
“I get a second chance this year,” Williams said. “Hopefully, I will have another good race and finish in the Top 40 in the nation.”
The Blue Dragon men have consistently been led by Rojas and Murphy. Williams’ effort at Region VI was the only time this season where Rojas and Murphy didn’t finish 1-2 for HCC.
Both runners have had wonderful freshman seasons for Zook.
Rojas just missed the Blue Dragon all-time Top 25 times with his seventh-place showing at the Emporia Stadium Invitational on Sept. 29 running a time of 25 minutes, 44.80. It was the first time since Mark Menefee in 1998 that a Blue Dragon men’s runner broke 26 minutes.
At Region VI, Rojas finished seventh with an All-Region time of 25:57.7.
“I am really excited to run at nationals,” Rojas said. “We have worked toward this all season and we all want to give a good performance there. We want to finish in the Top 30 or 40 in the nation.”
Murphy’s top time this season has been 26:18.80 at Emporia. He has been steady as a No. 2 runner all season long. At Region VI, he was the third HCC runner to cross the line after a tough first mile where he ran in a lot of traffic.
He finished with a time of 26:31.9.
As Rojas and Murphy have been the men’s 1-2 runners this season, Lane and Lambert have done the same for the Lady Dragons.
During the regular season Lambert and Lane were 2-2 in head-to-head performances and both have put up their share of tremendous performances.
At Tabor College, Lane ran the third-fastest 5K time in HCC women’s history at 19 minutes, 18.49 seconds. Right on her heels was Lambert, who ran the 10th fastest 5K time at 19:33.53.
At Region VI, Lambert finished fifth overall, breaking 20 minutes for the second time this season with a mark of 19:52.9, the 17th-fastest time in women’s cross county history at HCC.
“I really want to put up a good time because the times are supposed to be really fast and I don’t want to get sucked back to the back of the pack,” Lambert said. “I want to see where I stand against that kind of competition.”
Lane just missed breaking 20 minutes at Region VI with a 12th-place time of 20:00.2.
Lane said she has some added impetus to do well at the national championships.
“My old cross country coach is not going to coach anymore because he wants to further his military career,” Lane said. “I want to make him proud. I want to show him everything he’s done and everything Coach Zook has done has really paid off.”
As for how his four freshman are reacting to the preparation for their first national championship, Zook said there are four different ways to describe what he is seeing.
“You never really will know how they will react until they get there,” Zook said. “They all have worked very hard this year to do something special. I don’t want them to be scared. I just want them to be calm and confident.”
(HCC Sports Information)
A few days after the 2012 Region VI Cross Country Championships, Diosha Johnson received a phone call.
It turned out to be the call of opportunity and redemption for the Hutchinson Community College women’s cross country sophomore.
After having to drop out of the 2011 NJCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Johnson thought she might not get a chance to run on that stage again.
Then came the call from first-year HCC head coach Rod Zook, who informed Johnson that she was getting a second chance to run at nationals.
“I was so shocked when I got the call,” said Johnson, who along with five Blue Dragon teammates will compete at the 2012 NJCAA championships on Saturday in Ina, Ill. “On the way home from Region VI, he talked about how that might be my last race and I started crying because I knew it was coming.
“I didn’t think I was going, so I am glad that Coach Zook and Coach (Pat) Becher gave me the opportunity for a retry of what I didn’t get to do last year.”
How quickly fortunes changed for Buhler High graduate one year ago.
One moment the then-freshman was standing at the starting line at the 2011 NJCAA Division I National Cross Country Championships in Hobbs, N.M. An hour or so later, Johnson was in the emergency room of an area hospital.
A little more than a mile into the race, Johnson began to feel extreme pain in her stomach. The pain became so intense that she had to drop out. Pat Becher, HCC’s head track and field coach who was with the team, rushed her to a local ER.
“I felt it a few days before we left for Hobbs,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t feeling too well. I had pain in my stomach. I thought it was just the excitement. As I was running, the pain got worse and I kind of collapsed.
“I think I was more upset that I couldn’t complete the race. I was grateful to go because it as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
It turned out that Johnson had a hernia. She may have ran all the way through a stellar freshman season with the hernia, but it chose flare up as Johnson was preparing for the biggest race of her life.
Johnson wound up having surgery over Thanksgiving weekend in 2011. Because of a slow recovery, she missed nearly all of the Blue Dragons’ indoor track season, returning to action at the Region VI Indoor Championships.
“She ran the 10,000 and came right back and ran the 5,000 as Region VI,” Zook said. “It shows she’s got the courage to go out and she doesn’t back down from anything or backs down from a challenge. She always meets it head on.”
As her sophomore cross country season was to begin, Johnson had the challenge of returning to nationals put right in front of her.
When Zook took over the cross country program this season, he set certain parameters for his runners to qualify for nationals. Heading into regionals, Johnson had been close to her target time and fell short by 7 seconds at regionals after posting a time of 21:27.1.
“It was very unfortunate what happened to her,” Zook said of Johnson. “She just missed out on some of the goals we set for nationals individually-wise as far as time goes. She was close enough and we felt like she deserved another crack at it.”
Unlike last year, this time Johnson will be able to dictate the course her career on her own terms.
Saturday’s run at nationals will be the HCC sophomore’s final race. She will attend Fort Hays State University next year as a student only.
“I’m excited, but not that nervous,” Johnson said. “I don’t have anything to lose. I’m just going to go and give it my all.”
(By Steve Carpenter, HCC Sports Information Director)
HCC MEN, WOMEN 6TH AT REGION VI CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
HCC CROSS COUNTRY TEAMS LOOK FOR MORE POSITIVES AT REGION VI
LADY DRAGONS CAPTURE SECOND INVITATIONAL CROWN OF SEASON
BLUE DRAGON MEN FINISH SECOND BEHIND WSU AT LAKESIDE SHOOTOUT
HCC CROSS COUNTRY RUNNERS GET BACK TO WORK SATURDAY