ELSAH, Ill. – Mary Beth Bailey ran 40 seconds faster than her all-conference time Saturday, at the NAIA Women's Cross Country National Championship, in Elsah, Illinois, finishing the season with a 5K of 19:11, as Park University earned a 35th-place team finish in the event, the Pirates' first trip to the national championship since the 2012 season.
Christian Skinner and Ryan Zitter also ran, individually on the men's side, and Skinner finished the 5K race in 26:46, and Zitter finished his 8K in 27:19. Both runners were close in the first mile, Skinner in 5:07 and Zitter in 5:11, but Skinner, a freshman, was able to pull away and finish half a minute better than his junior teammate.
"Both Christian and Ryan represented us very well today," said Park cross country coach Brian Renshaw. "They competed hard and can walk away feeling proud today."
On the women's side, Park's Champions of Character honoree from the night before, Samantha Guardado, had Park's next-best time at 20:58, followed by Emily High (21:25), Jerosan Fletcher (22:02), Rachel Gilbert (22:04), Erin Esry (22:28) and Brooke Kelly (24:40).
"Emily woke up this morning feeling very sick, but I'm proud of her and the way she ran today. I'm proud of the whole group," Renshaw said. "I really wanted to see Mary Beth get that PR in the national meet, but she has something to work toward. It's not the team finish we wanted, but we have reasons to hold our head high after this experience."
After the first mile, both Guardado and High were only 20 seconds behind Bailey, who ran the first mile in 6:04. Bailey closed with her second-fastest mile in the third mile of the race, running it in 6:17, finishing better than the middle of the 334-runner pack.
Bailey's time missed her own personal best by one second and was four seconds shy of making Park's All-Time Top 25 Performance list, something Park runners have not done since 2012.
In the men's race, Southern Oregon won the team championship by 26 points over St. Francis, while Bacone's Jackson Thomas won the national championship as an individual, by only seven seconds over William Carey's Geoffrey Kipchumba.
Aminat Olowora of Oklahoma City won the women's national championship by nearly a minute, with the only sub-17:00 time, helping the Stars finish fifth, while the University of British Columbia claimed the team title by 45 points over Northwest Christian.
A complete highlight package from the 2016 NAIA Cross Country National Championships will air Sunday, November 20, at approximately 12 p.m. (noon) CST on Sunday on www.NAIANetwork.com and on the NAIA's YouTube channel.