Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Women’s cross-country took home its first-ever Ohio Valley Conference Championship trophy, finishing strong despite a constant cold drizzle and mud galore at Percy Warner Park.
The men’s team took second place overall, finishing close behind OVC rival Eastern Illinois University.
Saturday’s morning races featured all ten OVC teams, and among Belmont’s ten men and eight women, twin freshmen Kevin and Kaitlyn Vanderkolk led the pack and finished fourth in their respective competitions — the fastest individual results on their teams.
With running conditions less-than-ideal in the rain, both teams leaned on their familiarity with the course.
“It is our home course. So, it’s kind of like literally, no pun intended, a perfect storm, because we know this course better than anybody else” said Grace Litzinger, who crossed the finish line just 1 second behind Vanderkolk in the women’s 5K.
Though Vanderkolk finished quickest for Belmont in 18 minutes, 20 seconds, her teammates were hot on her heels. Four Bruins sped through the finish line within 8 seconds of each other; Litzinger finished fifth and Brooke Stromsland sixth to earn spots on the All-OVC First Team, an honor awarded to the race’s top seven runners.
Finishing seconds behind them in the 18th minute, Katie Flaherty and Brooke Garter cracked the top 14, winning All-OVC Second Team spots.
“We did know the course, so we knew where it was gonna be muddy or extra rough,” said Vanderkolk. “Once we got in it, it was kind of just blocking out the rain. I didn’t really think about it. We just were running.”
Junior Katie Flaherty (left) and freshman Kaitlyn Vanderkolk stride through the mud on their way down the course at Percy Warner. Belmont Vision / Sarah Maninger
At the awards ceremony, not only did the women’s team take home the OVC title, but Belmont’s Jeff Langdon was also named Women’s Coach of the Year for his efforts during the season, giving Belmont Athletics yet another trophy to bring back to campus.
As head coach of the university’s cross-country program, Langdon was presented the award, though it’s assistant coach Kate Buckman who works with the women day-to-day throughout the season.
Langdon commended EIU on a great race and said it’s always a challenge to compete against the Panthers.
“They’re just tough. They’re a tough, gritty team, men and women. They’re really well-coached. Coach Erin Howarth is a great coach. She always has her teams ready, ” said Langdon.
The EIU Panthers proved fierce competitors in the men’s race too, edging out Belmont’s team for their own OVC win in the men’s 8K.
Despite a loss for the Belmont men, there were some strong individual performances on the course. Kevin Vanderkolk, Ben Naeger, Ethan Hammer and Aiden Thompson ranked in the top ten, and the team’s average finishing time was 25 minutes, 20 seconds, coming up just short of the EIU men’s average of 25 minutes, 7 seconds.
Senior Ben Naeger (left) and freshman Kevin Vanderkolk, the first two Bruins to finish in the men’s race. Vanderkolk and Naeger placed fourth and fifth. Belmont Vision / Sarah Maninger
“We almost made it,” said senior Thompson. “And for the girls’ team, they probably upset the odds today beating them, so it’s great to be here cheering them on. And kudos to them for getting the personal OVC title.”
Saturday’s championship was cross-country’s final conference meet in the OVC before the Bruins move to the Missouri Valley Conference next summer.
“We’re gonna miss it. But I think the Missouri Valley Conference for Belmont in general is going to be a great move athletically, and so we’re looking forward to moving on,” said Langdon.
But the Bruins’ season isn’t over yet — next up, they’ll compete at the NCAA South Regionals Nov. 12 in Huntsville, Alabama.
PHOTO: Women’s cross-country runners pose with their prize. Belmont Vision / Sarah Maninger.
This article was written by Sarah Maninger and Melody Scott.
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