The gun sounded at 9:08 a.m. Monday morning.
It signaled the start of the NCAA National Cross Country Championships in Terra Haute, Ind. and marked the first time that an Aggie duo – seniors Kim Conley and Kaitlin Gregg – had ever competed in the biggest meet in the country.
Racing in freezing temperatures – a race high of 32 degrees – with a strong wind, Conley placed 80th with a time of 21:02.2. Gregg finished only 18 seconds back with her 118th place finish.
The race featured the top 31 teams in the nation. Thirty-eight individuals not on those teams were awarded at-large berths.
The competition was the stiffest Conley and Gregg have had to face in their careers by far, leading them to race or to start much faster than they were used to.
“Unlike any big invite,” said head coach Drew Wartenburg, “on the line you have the seven runners from the 31 best teams in the nation, and then the individuals. You add actually make the field even stronger.
“The race is so top heavy with talent, and there were teams and individuals who knew they had to get out from the gun because this was for all the marbles.“
Conley and Gregg stayed together for the early portion of the race before Conley started to pull away at around 3k.
Gregg passed the 2k mark in 6:40 with Conley right behind. Conley came through 4k in 13:46 with Gregg at 13:57. Both were able to pass others in the last 2k who had gone out too quickly, though they themselves may have benefited from starting out a bit faster than usual.
“It was one where you ended up racing in the position you got out in,” said Wartenburg. “We didn’t put ourselves in the top 50 at the start of the race, and in a race like this where everybody is good, it’s hard to get there. You’re not gonna pass half the field in the course of six kilometers.“
Though not doing as well as they had hoped, the performances were quite respectable.
“Both Kimmy and Kaitlin would have ideally liked to have been higher up,” said Wartenburg, “but at the same time, … for both to be the top half of this field, there’s absolutely no shame in that.“
A total of 252 individuals competed in the race.
“It was a great experience to compete at the national meet,” said Gregg. “I’m really pleased to finish out my cross country career here.“
Conley and Gregg have enjoyed impressive senior campaigns, as they went 1-2 for the Aggies in every race in which they competed.
“I’m really happy that I had the opportunity to compete at the national level,” said Conley. “Everyone who raced stepped it up to another level and overall it was a really good experience that I needed to have. I will definitely use what I learned from this race when I am taking a stab at competing on the national level in track.“
“It was really great to be here with Kimmy,” said Gregg. “We’ve been training partners, teammates and good friends for four years and have shared this goal for a while now. I’m happy we got to share this together.“
ALEX WOLF-ROOT can be reached at email@example.com.