Bearcats Cross Country Wrap Up Seasons, Sending One to NCAA Nationals
By: Megan Doty
The McKendree Bearcats Men’s and Women’s Cross Country team began their post-season on Saturday, October 26, at the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) meet hosted by Maryville University at Forest Park in St. Louis, MO.
The women’s team placed 9th out of 14 teams in the Conference. Senior Megan Doty was the first individual to bring home All-Conference honors for the women’s cross country team in McKendree history. The top 15 athletes were named All-Conference, and Doty placed eighth in the field, covering the 6-kilometer course in 22:22.
“I think my finish at Conference is a testament of how well Coach Mendez has done,” said Doty. “Last year at Conference I was 76th, and this year I was 8th and ran over two minutes faster. It just shows that when you trust your coach and dedicate yourself to his training program, great things can happen.”
The Men’s team placed 10th out of the 14 teams. Senior Blake DeLong continued his strong season with a fourth place finish to grab his second GLVC All-Conference honors. DeLong covered the 8-kilometer course in 24:31.
The team sent only three individuals to the Midwest Regional meet in Kenosha, WI on Saturday, November 9. Senior Blake DeLong and freshman Dylan Hartley represented the men’s team, and senior Megan Doty represented the women’s team. Hartley had a strong finish to his season, placing 96th in the field of 199 runners and covering the 10-kilometer course in 33:57. Doty finished her career at McKendree with a 51st place finish out of 198 runners, turning in a time of 22:58.
“It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. Top 25 are named All-Regional, and that was my goal. But the course was really tough and it was pretty crowded, so I had a lot of trouble moving around people. It was bittersweet to realize that my cross country career was finished, but I couldn’t have asked for a better team to have for my senior year.” Doty added.
Senior standout Blake DeLong finished sixth overall, with a time of 31:28 for the 10K course. His finish earned him both an All-Regional title and a spot in the NCAA DII National meet. DeLong is the first McKendree individual to qualify for a NCAA DII National Championship.
“I was pretty nervous going into the Regional meet,” DeLong said. “Only the top three individuals not on a qualifying team make it to Nationals, and I was afraid that USI (University of Southern Indiana) may not qualify as a team, and their individuals would take my place.”
Luckily, USI placed second overall, making DeLong the second individual to qualify for the National meet. Nationals will be held on November 23 in Spokane, Washington.
The cross country head coach, Michael Mendez, says his first season as the head coach has been extremely rewarding. “This has been a season of firsts. This year marked the first year McKendree has had an All-Conference female performer in cross country, our first season participating in the NCAA Midwest Region, and the first season with the opportunity to qualify for NCAA Nationals. Blake DeLong was our first cross country GLVC Runner of the Week, first McKendree athlete to be named All-Region, and first of our University’s athletes to qualify for NCAA Nationals. He has a real shot at becoming our first All-American, and what a first that would be.”“It feels really good to be the first person from McKendree to qualify for a National championship,” he continued. “I hope that I’m paving the way for future McKendree cross country teams, and showing the guys on the team that with a lot of hard work and perseverance, they can make the National championship, too.”
With Nationals only a few days away, DeLong has a plan for his final race of his cross country career.
“As of right now, I am ranked 50th with my time from Regionals, and the top 40 are named All-American. But the Regional course was really hilly, and the conditions weren’t great. I think on my best day I can get top 20 at Nationals. I’ll do my best to represent McKendree and Coach Mendez well.”
Coach Mendez could not be happier for his athlete. “I’m very proud of what Blake has earned this year. I assure you he earned it and I hope every athlete could learn a lesson about hard work and how it pays off from this young man.”
Blake DeLong will lace up for his final cross country meet as a McKendree Bearcat on Saturday, November 23.