By Murray Evans
MANSFIELD, Texas (Oct. 26, 2013) – If Oklahoma Christian wanted to know how it matched up against other top men’s cross country teams in the Heartland Conference, the answer Saturday was clear – extremely well.
Led by a 1-2 finish by Roberto Diaz and Bryant Keirns, the Eagles excelled in the Heartland Conference Championship on an overcast, cool and windy Saturday morning at the Mansfield Sports Complex.
Diaz, Keirns and Brennym Kaelin – who finished seventh – earned all-conference honors in the Eagles’ debut at the Heartland meet, which came during OC’s second year as a member of the league.
Team scores for the Heartland’s four provisional members – including OC – weren’t officially kept, but had they been, the Eagles would have tied Dallas Baptist (Texas) for first. DBU was named as the team champion.
Diaz, a four-time conference runner of the week this fall, and Keirns controlled the 8,000-meter race from the beginning. During the first of three loops, they ran as part of a pack of about a dozen runners at the front of the 84-man field. By the second loop, their only competition was Dallas Baptist’s Chris Springer, who eventually finished third.
Diaz posted a time of 25:15.7, with Keirns finishing exactly four seconds behind. Kaelin wasn’t far behind with a time of 25:55.7.
“Roberto and Bryant have been working really hard and I’m excited to see Brennym closing the gap on those guys because that’s what it will take to place well at nationals,” OC coach Wade Miller said. “I’m really happy for those guys. They definitely earned the victory today. It was a really competitive field with lots of good runners out here, so they should be pleased.”
The Eagles’ next four runners all finished less than a minute apart – Timothy Zuercher (23rd in 26:50.8), Trent Stephens (28th in 27:04), Evan Durrill (34th in 27:23.7) and Nick Stoots (39th in 27:48.8). Nathan Giles was 75th in 30:53.7.
OC will travel to Cedarville, Ohio, in three weeks, seeking to defend its National Christian College Athletic Association title and Miller said the Eagles will need to clean up some issues between now and then.
“The back end didn’t run as well as I hoped they would,” he said. “That’s something we’ll have to work on. Today’s performance wouldn’t cut it in three weeks. But it’s good to know where we’re at. This is the first race we’ve had in a while with good conditions, so I think we have a good idea of where we stack up. We know we’ve got a lot to work on in the next three weeks.”