WESTFIELD, Mass. – Nothing will ever beat the first time for the Mineral Area men’s cross country team.
In just two years of existence, the Running Cardinals have reached the pinnacle of NJCAA Division III competition by capturing a national championship in their first season of sanctioned eligibility.
With freshmen Donovan Denslow and Wyatt Elliott leading the push, Mineral Area stopped the eight-year reign of Harper College (Ill.) on Saturday.
The Cardinals, fresh off capturing their first Region 16 crown a week ago, totaled 54 points for plenty of distance ahead of Howard (Md.) with 79 and Harper with 152.
A program crafted under the leadership of Hall of Fame head coach Steve Davis, who guided Potosi to seven high school cross country state titles and Viburnum to another, certainly flourished in a hurry.
Mineral Area stayed healthy on a path to delivering the school’s first national championship in any sport about 1,100 miles from home on a cool fall morning in western Massachusetts.
“The men’s team came into the first day of practice on Aug. 1 in good shape from their summer training. They had a great work ethic all through the season, avoided any major injuries, and bonded well as a team,” Davis said. “They got the ultimate reward for their hard work. I’m very proud of them and our two women that competed at the national meet for their accomplishments.”
Denslow completed the nearly 8-kilometer course at 26:43 to place third individually, while Elliott was eight seconds behind him in fourth at 26:51.
Jacob Arnold added another top-10 result for the Cardinals, finishing ninth at 27:16. The top 15 runners achieved All-American status.
Fredericktown graduate Sam Toppins crossed the line 22nd among 200 total participants in the men’s race, while MAC teammates Dylan Cisne (28:20), Alex Aherns (29:09) and Bryce Mings (29:54) followed.
St. Charles (Mo.) freshman Edwin Kipainoi (26:30) powered to the individual title by holding off runner-up Sebastian Mills (26:33) of Fulton-Montgomery (N.Y.) down the stretch.
The Cardinals had two entries in the women’s 5K race. St. Paul graduate Hailey Cortez (21:19) placed 18th and Nani Brewington (22:19) took 30th in their best performances of the season.