By Murray Evans
CEDARVILLE, Ohio (Nov. 9, 2012) – Oklahoma Christian cross country coach Wade Miller had warned before the beginning of the season that it would be tough for his six-woman team to make it through the entire campaign without a health issue.
At the most inopportune time – just days before the NCCAA Championship – his prediction proved true. OC runners Jacqueline Hallam and Cassandra Hallam had to remain in Oklahoma City due to injury and illness, respectively, leaving the Lady Eagles unable to field a full team in the biggest meet of the season.
With the team element of the competition gone, the Lady Eagles’ four other runners – Tara Lewis, Noemi Hernandez, Tavia Hoheisel and Maria Sargent – must focus on achieving strong individual finishes in the 5,000-meter NCCAA race, which will start Saturday at 9 a.m. Central time at Cedarville University’s Elvin R. King Cross Country Course.
It will be the first national collegiate meet for all four of OC’s healthy runners.
“It was disappointing what happened to Jacq and Cass,” Miller said. “But things happen and you’ve got to do your best with what you have. I think the girls that are in there are excited about the opportunity. I know they’re going to do their best.”
The course is entirely grass and includes rolling hills, as well as a gradual incline at the start. The race-time forecast calls for temperatures at or near 50 degrees, clear skies and a slight breeze.
“It will all depend on the conditions exactly how the race plays out,” Miller said.
Lewis, a freshman, won NCCAA women’s cross country student-athlete of the week honors earlier this season and figures to be a threat to finish in the top 10 individually in a race that will include 46 teams and nearly 300 runners.
Lewis ran a season-best 18:38.39 in her most recent race, the Mid-States Classic on Oct. 20 in Winfield, Kan. By comparison, last year’s winning time in the NCCAA meet – also run on the Cedarville course – was 18:28.67.
Hernandez ran the top time of her sophomore campaign – 19:58.13 – in the season-opening Central Oklahoma Land Run. Her times have hovered around the 20-minute mark most of the fall.
Hoheisel’s best time came in the Missouri Southern Stampede in Joplin, Mo., where she finished in 21:16.11. Sargent is coming off her best outing of the season, a 21:47.59 effort in the Mid-States Classic.
“The way that they’ve been training lately, based on their most recent races, they’re coming into peak form right now. I’m anticipating them to be close to personal records. In a field this big and this deep, there’s always going to be somebody to run with and to push you.”