The Baker University women’s cross country team and members of the Haskell Indian Nations University men’s and women’s squads will compete Saturday in the NAIA Championships at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence.
This is the first year that Rim Rock has hosted the NAIA national meet, and it is a welcomed change for the two area schools. For the past four years, Vancouver, Wash., has hosted the NAIA championships.
“With traveling to Vancouver, we had to deal with a two-hour time difference,” Haskell coach Al Gipp said. “Coming from here, I think the one advantage we have is that we will be here and be able to sleep in our own rooms and get up and just go 15 miles down the road.”
Gipp is taking four of his runners to the national meet — Chad Upshaw representing the men’s team and Tiar’e Littlehead, Talisa Budder and Ashlee Wermy competing for the Haskell women.
Upshaw qualified for his second national meet after winning the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference championship on Nov. 9. However, since the MCAC combined with three teams from the North Star Athletic Association for the meet, Upshaw did not realize he was the MCAC individual champion until after the race.
“I was in the back stretching and was getting tight (after finishing the race), and then I just heard ‘MCAC champion’ and heard my name,” Upshaw said.
Valley City State was the men’s team champion, but Upshaw was the second individual qualifier after his fifth-place overall finish.
Budder, Littlehead and Wermy also qualified as individuals after helping lead the Indians to a third-place finish at the conference meet. All three women have experience running at the national meet as Littlehead and Wermy are two-time qualifiers and Budder will be making her third appearance.
“Me, Tiar’e and Ashlee, we can probably feed off of each other throughout the course,” Budder said. “Some other schools have probably ran there, too, that might be familiar with the course, but hopefully we’ll have a good race.”
Just like the four Haskell runners, the Baker women’s team competed at Rim Rock in previous meets. The Wildcats will be making their second team appearance in the past four years after winning the Heart of America Athletic Conference championship meet.
“I thought it was the best race we had all year,” Baker head coach Zach Kindler said. “No question about it. It was an extremely challenging course.”
Senior Lauren Jaqua won her third consecutive conference championship and believes the Wildcats are capable of finishing much higher than their current No. 25 ranking.
“We’ve talked with coach and, definitely, our goal is to be a top-15 team,” Jaqua said. “We know that experience-wise, we’ve run against a lot of these NAIA teams before, so we’re kind of well-adapted to what kind of competition we are going to be up against.”
Jaqua and fellow seniors Ashley McBride and Megan Rosa are excited to run one last time at Rim Rock.
“It is just really close to our hearts because it is kind of like our home course,” Jaqua said, “so we just feel so blessed to have the opportunity to end our careers there on a great course like Rim Rock.”
The men’s 8K race will start at 10:30 a.m., followed by the women’s 5K at 11:45.