Five days after winning the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship, Anneka Murren still didn’t know how to describe what it was like to finish in first place.
“[It’s] kind of surreal still,” she said. “I knew we had a shot … but to win it how we did, I was not expecting that.”
Murren, a sophomore, was the first member of the Loyola women’s cross country team to cross the finish line at the 5K meet Nov. 2. It was her first individual collegiate victory, and three of her teammates came in right behind her as the Ramblers cruised to their first ever MVC title.
Four Loyola runners finished in the top five and five ended up in the top 10 of a race that included 79 runners from across the MVC. Even coach Alan Peterson, who was named MVC Coach of the Year, said he was surprised at how well the team did.
“They made it easy on me that day, that’s for sure,” Peterson joked. “I thought it was going to be a little closer … but for them to take control of the race and pretty much be like, ‘Here we are. Try to beat us,’ was pretty cool.”
Coming into the season, the Ramblers faced some uncertainty after their best runner, Lindsey Brewis, graduated. Brewis won back-to-back MVC Championships in 2017 and 2018, and her departure left a hole at the top of the leaderboard. They were picked third in the MVC preseason poll as a result.
But Peterson said Brewis’ graduation allowed the team to come together as a group and follow her example as a leader — but that didn’t stop him from cracking a joke when he talked to Brewis after the meet.
“I always joke with Lindsey still to this day that we’re going to be a better team when we leave just because of the quality of athletes that we’re getting in,” Peterson said. “I just knew we were finally going to turn that corner.”
As the season went on, the Ramblers maintained confidence. They won the Illinois State Invitational Sept. 13 and finished second at the Loyola Lakefront Invitational Sept. 28. But they finished 26th out of 37 teams at NCAA Pre-Nationals Oct. 19 — just two weeks before the MVC meet.
But even after winning conference, Murren said she has to think of regionals as “just another race” even though the stakes are higher.
“Of course there’s nerves,” Murren said. “But they’re good nerves.”
All four Ramblers who finished in the top five are sophomores and juniors, meaning they’re all set to return next season. In fact, Loyola only has three seniors on its 21-runner roster — two of whom finished 16th and 20th, respectively, at the meet.
But they can’t look that far ahead just yet. Loyola is preparing to compete at the 2019 NCAA Midwest Regional Nov. 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The Midwest Regional is a 6K race, which is one more kilometer than the usual 5K in which the team has run all season.
Junior Mimi Reimers — who finished second at the MVC Championship — said she doesn’t think the extra kilometer will make much difference, though. She said the team trains for a 6K even though all meets through the regional are 5K.
“Our strength is a 6K and we train for a 6K,” Reimers said. “If anything, a 5K feels short.”
The NCAA Midwest Regional is scheduled for Nov. 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Start time is set for 10 a.m.