Gunn, Smith run in the National Championship race
By Karleigh Creighton
Crusader runners Ahron Gunn (top right) and Alec Smith competed in the 2014 NAIA Men’s Cross Country National Championship race Nov. 22 in Lawrence, Kansas, at the Rim Rock Course.
“Nationals was a great experience,” Smith said. “I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, but I finished the season on a good note. I learned a lot from the experience but the most important thing that I learned was that on these kind of trips you make lifelong friends.”
Teammate Gunn says the race was a fun and challenging way to end the season.
“I think that Nationals went really well,” Gunn said. “It was a tough course, so the time doesn’t really reflect on the physical output needed to run that race. It wasn’t my fastest time of the season, but it was the hardest I’ve had to work and did work. This was the most challenging course I’ve run yet.”
Gunn placed 172nd and Smith 266th out of the 320 runners at the National Championship. Their times were 27:02 and 28:11 respectively, on the challenging 8k course.
Both Gunn and Smith are first-year Crusaders. Both transferred from junior colleges: Gunn from Jackson College and Smith from Oakland Community College.
Head coach Patrick Daugherty believes the success of these two athletes comes from hard work, solid racing strategies, and genetics.
“Both of them came from really good high school and junior college programs so they were well-prepared,” Daugherty said. “In addition to working really hard throughout the season, a lot of their success came from the development of good race strategies and the two of them running together in the last three races. It also has to do immensely with their God-given ability.”
Daugherty thought Nationals served as a great preparation for next season.
“Overall, I thought Nationals went well,” Daugherty said. “The guys gained good experience learning how you have to run at a national level. Both Ahron and Alec had great seasons and were able to cap it off competing at Nationals. We learned a lot for next year. Our goal now is not just to get to the National Championship in the future, but to place in the top 50.”
Gunn commented on what he learned and how he will prep for next season.
“I learned that the competition in the NAIA is much tougher then at the junior college level. I know that if I want to do well next year and return to nationals that I need to put in more hard work and more miles during the off season,” he said. “I also realized that I have a lot more to show and the only way to get to that level is to listen to my coach and take care of my body.”
Both Gunn and Smith agree also enjoyed another aspect of the trip.
“My favorite part of the experience was being able to run around a new place and take in the different culture and scenery,” Smith said.
“I liked hanging out with Alec and my two coaches; I feel that we bonded more as teammates and as coach and runner. We had a lot of fun,” Gunn said. “Also, going to another state and experiencing a new environment and people was a really refreshing experience. Kansas has some bomb French toast, bacon, and eggs- shout out to The Roost!”
As in all sports, coaches greatly influence the success of the team and Gunn and Smith definitely credit Daugherty for his strategies and hard work as a coach.
“Other than being the most interestingly weird person besides myself, what I like about Coach Daugherty is that he runs with us,” Gunn said. “He goes above and beyond to help us out with whatever we need. He also keeps the environment relaxed by saying a lot of funny things and not being completely serious all the time which helps me stay relaxed as a runner.”
“One of the best things Daugherty did this season to help me was make Ahron and I run together,” Smith said. “It was easier to run with a teammate rather than a random person at a race. In our last three races, including the conference meet, Ahron helped me push through the race which helped me make it to Nationals.”
Gunn and Smith are both new to the Crusader family this year, but they both believe that the family atmosphere here makes it a great place to be.
“My team is a tight pack of brothers that, even though we might not agree on everything, is accepting and open-minded. Other teams around campus are friendly and don’t just stick to their own sport. I love being a Crusader and I can’t wait to see where this amazing place takes me,” Gunn said.
Regarding Madonna’s cross country program as a whole, Daugherty said the majority of his athletes improved from the first race to the last. Both teams finished fifth in their respective conference meets. He said the goal for the future is to win the conference and qualify as many runners for Nationals as they can.