The Northwestern State cross country teams capped their schedule Friday morning at the 2018 Southland Conference Championships with both teams improving on last season’s results, each placing 10th among 13 teams.
The Lady Demons were paced by sophomore Isabella Hudson while senior Brandon Lewis-Graham was fastest for the Demons in the competition on a muddy course at the Enos Derbonne Sports Complex. They were the first finishers for their teams in every meet of the season.
Hudson had a tremendous improvement from her freshman year, leading the Lady Demons with a time of 25:14.1 in the 6,000 meter run, earning the 34th overall slot among 92 competitors after finishing 76th a season ago. Lewis-Graham paced the NSU men with a 41st-place finish over 8,000 meters with a time of 28:43.4 in the 88-runner field.
Hudson was followed by freshman teammate Emily Blanchard, who ran 25:30.7 for 40th.
“Isabella and Emily ran so far beyond where they should have been,” said head coach Chris Sauer. “I was going to be pleased if they were both around 50th. To get Izzy and Emmy in the top 40 is incredible. They’ve both improved so much this season and I couldn’t ask for more.”
Sauer said that he had hoped for a better showing on the men’s side but was still happy with his lone senior, Lewis-Graham.
“I’m always going to be proud of how Brandon led this team this year,” said Sauer. “He’s the only senior and he stepped up big in mentoring this young team. He and I both looked at this race thinking top 15 was possible, but a bad start on this course with these conditions is unforgiving.”
Close behind Hudson and Blanchard on the women’s side were freshman Kirstin Elrod (55th- 26:29.9), trailed on the scorecard by junior Emily Heard (69th- 27:10.2) and freshman Jasmine Dansby (76th- 27:52.7).
“For the girls, 10th was a good result. Last year they finished 11th and did it with four seniors, two juniors, and two freshmen. This year we placed even higher with one junior, two sophomores, and five freshmen,” said Sauer. “Two of them placed higher than any individual from NSU on the women’s side has in years. They got out where they needed to be and just held people off the whole time.”
Following Lewis-Graham across the finish line for the Demons were sophomore Darius Groves (49th- 29:06.3), sophomore Yannik Gerland (52nd- 29:13.1), freshman Cody Robinson (53rd- 29:15.6), and freshman Clay Casner (67th- 30:10.9).
“Honestly, the guys had a bad day,” said Sauer. “We started out further back than we should have been. In these conditions, there was no chance to change enough to make up for it. The younger guys got some much-needed experience, but it stings to have the bad days fall when it really matters.”
The freshmen quartet of Jade Talazac (79th- 28:03.7), Keanna Osby (80th- 28:11.2), Thomas Daigle (71st- 30:27.2), and Andrew Robinson (84th- 32:33.1) also competed but did not score points.
Lamar, the reigning men’s champion of the past five years, was knocked off by Central Arkansas with a team score of 57. The Cardinals took second with 64 points despite having the top two individual finishers. The women also crowned a new team champion as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi won its first title since 2011.
The NCAA South Central Regionals are open to anyone and Sauer may bring a couple of runners to College Station, Texas on Nov. 9. The others will turn their attention to the upcoming track season to compete in distance events beginning in January with indoor meets.