The USF men’s and women’s cross country teams hosted what USF assistant Rita Arndt called a disappointing Conference USA championship meet Saturday.
The women’s team, hampered by the recurring problem of poor showings from its Nos. 4 and 5 runners, took third out of 14 teams. The men placed two runners in the top 10, but finished just sixth in the 12-team field.
“I am really, really disappointed, especially on the girls’ side,” Arndt said. “This is hard for me to swallow because I care so much about this. The thing about cross country is, you’ve got to have seven people — or at least five — that care as much as I do.
“And I can’t say enough for Christa (Benton), Jessica (Hellender), Bente (General), Adam (Chumbley), Sean (Burris), Derek (Lincoln) and Chris Cox. You know, those seven are like the heart of this team, and if I could make clones of each of them, I would, I would in a second. It’s with people like that that you win. And we’ll do OK. We will be OK as a program. This is not the finish I expected, but I know we will have six people coming back next year who want this to be a championship-caliber program, and we’ll find six more. We will find them.”
Marquette took both championships. Kyle MacKenzie of East Carolina and TCU’s Mary Kinyanjui took the individual titles.
General (21:02.50), Benton (21:03.50) and Hellender (21:20.60) took fourth, fifth and seventh, respectively, for the women. However, Sara Hall (23:37) and Kristen Poulos (23:44.70) finished 50th and 52nd, putting the team third overall.Arndt said the performance was indicative of both the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“Christa Benton, in the first 2000 meters, went from the front of the race, back to her teammate to cheer her on, and then caught back up to the leaders,” Arndt said. “That probably cost her the conference championship. And when she does that, it speaks worlds to what kind of heart some of the girls have got, to sacrifice first place for the possibility of inspiring her teammates to move forward with her.”
USF coach Greg Thiel said the women’s team needed a better race from top to bottom, but that they had not really gotten one all season.
On the men’s side, Burris and Chumbley took fifth and 10th, respectively. Derek Lincoln ran a personal-best 26:22.50 to take 30th, and Cox (27:27.20) and Andrew Charles (28:45.10) finished 50th and 74th in the 79-runner field.
“I was gunning for top five, but I didn’t feel 100 percent physically today,” Chumbley said. “I made sure that I ran a complete race today, and I ran for both my teammates and myself, and it turned out well. Tenth is still all-conference, and I made sure I did that.”
As the team’s lone senior, Chumbley had four years of experience to put the meet in perspective. Before the meet, he stressed to his teammates the benefits of running at home, and he thinks it paid off.
“I told the guys, ‘We need to take advantage of being at home,’ and that’s what we did,” Chumbley said. “I saw something different today in the guys that I haven’t seen in probably about three years,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we came to a race anywhere and had a complete race from the guys, one through five. So no matter where we finished, today was a good day.
“The southern golf courses tend to be a little more spongy,” he said. “Up North, you’ll find a lot more hard-packed surfaces, so it tends to have slower times, even if the course is flat and there are no hills. This course was still tough for me personally, because I don’t run well on golf courses, but I think the team dealt with it well.”
Arndt ultimately saw these positives in the teams’ performances,. too.
“Derek Lincoln ran a 30-second personal best, which is a remarkable thing to do at the conference championships,” she said. “Adam Chumbley, our senior, ran just a tremendous race. He was eighth last year, (10th) this year, you can’t complain about that. When you come to conference, you just want to run what you are capable of running. We don’t need a superhero, we just need people who can run. Sean Burris, he was in the thirties last year, he finished fifth this year. (That is) just a phenomenal jump. Those are the people who want to do the work to make this team better.”