JOPLIN, MO – Victorious by 13.6 seconds over her next closest competitor, Jessica Pixler won her first ever NCAA DII Cross Country national title in a blistering time of 20:29.1 over a 6,000 meter course, helping lead her team to a 2nd Place finish overall.
Pixler, who ran a faster 19:53 at the West Regional race, averaged a 5:30 mile pace on the National stage, and was joined in the top 10 overall in the women’s race by fellow sophomore teammate Jane Larson, who finished eighth in 20:55.5. Pixler’s time was a course record, in conditions both her and Head Coach Doris Heritage described as, “Perfect.”
“It was the nicest running weather ever,” Pixler said. “Perfect warmth” she added.
Pixler’s time was 10.9 seconds faster than last year’s nationals in Pensacola, Fl, where she finished 10th overall in 20:40. The 2nd place team finish marks the Falcons' highest ever, having finished sixth in last year's NCAA D-II, and besting their previous record of 3rd in the 1986 season, which was also under Heritage's lead.
The victory did not come without drama, as Pixler and another lead runner stumbled and fell midway through the race, due to both runners clipping heels with each other and losing their balance. Heritage claims Pixler’s soccer history to have aided her in recuperating from the fall, which is customary in soccer matches.
Suzie Strickler, who was fighting off a cold and was not even cleared by her doctor to race until five minutes before the meet deadline, finished in third for the Falcons, 47th overall, in 22:04.7. Senior Karin Rohde was fourth for the women and 53rd overall in 22:15.0, with Kate Harline rounding out the top five for SPU in 69th place at 22:39.7.
“They were the heroes of the race because they were all facing adversity and they made the difference in the end,” Pixler said of her teammates who finished fairly bunched together. Pixler added that her teammates passed other runners at the right time towards the end and surged towards the finish, which made all the difference.
SPU was without two members of the 2006 Nationals team, Mary Moriarty and Megan Wrightman, but added sophomore Lisa Anderberg and Senior twin Kaitlin Rohde to their team this season. Anderberg finished sixth for the Falcons, 83rd overall in 23:03.2, while Rohde rounded out the seven women team in 92nd place overall, at a time of 23:08.9.
The top 30 finishers receive All-American status, which Pixler and Larson will be credited with, and this second place finish has only spurred the Falcons’ confidence, desire, and determination for the number one spot next season.
“Everyone had faith and everyone gave it their all,” Pixler said. “Everyone had the confidence to come out and fight, and God was behind it.”
Adams State ran away with the team title, finishing with 63 total points, while the difference between SPU’s second place finish (178 points) and Western State’s sixth place finish (191 points) speaks loudly of the immense competition the Falcon women faced. Fellow West Region teams Chico State University and Cal State Los Angeles finished fourth (183) and fifth (185) respectively. UC San Diego, the fourth and last team to make it to Nationals from the West Region, finished 11th overall with 293 points.
Each team in the top eight overall at the National meet provides the Region with another bid for the meet in the coming year, which means there may possibly be five slots for West Region teams next season.
NOTE: The sports information office of Seattle Pacific University contributed to this report.