VU Cross Country looks to stay strong at NJCAA National Championship Meet

The Vincennes University Men’s Cross Country Team seems to be doing what coaches hope and pray that their teams do to be successful in the post-season.
The Trailblazers appear to be living out that old cliché known as “peaking at the right time.” In fact, VU Coach Chris Gafner said, the steady improvement seems to be evident throughout  the Trailblazer men’s and women’s runners in the final few days of preparation for Saturday’s NJCAA Men’s National Championship Meet, hosted by New Mexico Junior College at Ocotillo Golf Course in Hobbs, NM.
“We scheduled hard competition so there would be tough meets that would help us head to the regional and national meets battle-tested,” Gafner said. “I wanted our runners to learn throughout the season that they can compete well against freshman and sophomore runners from anywhere.” The last few practices, everybody has been running well.”
Better performances late in the regular season carried the VU men to a second place team finish, while sophomore D.J. Taylor (Anderson Highland) and freshman Hunter Motz (North Posey) turned in top 10 individual performances at the October 29 NJCAA Region XII Cross Country Meet in Lansing, MI.
Taylor turned in a time of 26:06, while Motz was right on his heels at 26:08. Lansing Community College’s Austin Alcala was the regional meet’s individual winner with a time of 25:35. VU turned away projected competitors Mott and Oakland, which finished third and fourth, respectively.
“I thought we would have to run a very good race just to get third, so the second place finish was outstanding,” Gafner said. “We certainly ran our best race of the season because six of the top 25 teams (in NJCAA Div. I polls) were in Region XII with us. I’ve never seen it that deep before.”
The runner-up team finish combined with Taylor’s fifth place (First Team All-Region) and Motz’s sixth place (Second Team All-Region) runs to earn seven spots in the national meet.
In the women’s Region XII Meet, sophomore Gabrielle Kuhn (Marshall, IL) earned her second trip to the national meet. She’ll be joined by VU freshman Corrine Butler (Greenfield Central) at the nationals, and the pair provides the Trailblazers with nine runners at the finals meet. Kuhn’s time was 20:28 for 19th place and Butler grabbed 34th with a time of 21:24 in the women’s race. The individual winner was Kayla Pfund of Macomb, who ran the course in 18:43.
“Gabby is just a great runner and an even better person,” Gafner said of Kuhn, a Marshall, IL, product. “She’s also an incredible student who epitomizes what a student-athlete should be.”
Other male VU competitors at the national meet by virtue of being in the Trailblazers’ top seven regional meet finishers are sophomore Taylor Lowry (Martinsville) and freshman Jacob Bingham (Maconaquah), Matthew Collier (Terre Haute South), Jesse McCallister (Lafayette Jefferson) and Ken Renshaw (Mount Vernon).
Gafner, who will be leading his fifth complete VU team to the national meet (along with various individual qualifiers throughout the years), said the current men’s edition of Trailblazers might be the best team he has had entering the meet.
Again, that is because of the steady improvement throughout the fall. The better finishes have been contagious.
“D.J.’s consistency has been better and he’s really worked so hard that he’s just gotten stronger and stronger,” Gafner said of Taylor.
He continued, “Hunter (Motz) has been our most consistent runner because he’s been at or near the top all year, Jacob Bingham is starting to show the same promise from early in the year, after a rough patch with some injuries. Matthew Collier and Ken Renshaw are looking better all the time and Taylor Lowry looks ready to break out and pop a big race when he gets there (to the national meet).”
The men and Kuhn and Butler are developing the primary trait for success at the championship event.
“The key is probably confidence going in,” Gafner said. “That’s something you work on all season. But, at the same time, you have to treat it like a regular meet and not pile too much pressure on yourself as a runner.”