The Loyola women’s cross country team topped its seven competitors in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Championship with four runners among the top five finishers. The men’s squad came in fourth of seven teams at the Evansville, Indiana meet March 3.
The women’s team’s victory is its second consecutive championship win as it also notched a first-place finish in 2019.
The program is the first to have back-to-back titles since 2017-18 winner Bradley University. The women’s 26 points also mark the second-lowest score by an MVC champion in league history outside the Rambler’s own 17-point total in the previous championship. In cross country, the victor is the team with the lowest point total.
Loyola junior Anneka Murrin — named MVC Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year — led the women’s 5K with a first-place finish at Angel Mounds Cross Country Course, clocking 16:55.3. The Yarmouth, Maine native earned individual medalist honors for the second time in two years.
She’ll be the third runner in Loyola women’s program history to compete in the NCAA Cross Country Championships, with former Ramblers Gina Valgoi (2012) and Lindsey Brewis (2018) ahead of her. Her finish also marks the fourth consecutive individual conference title by the women’s squad.
“It was definitely a goal of ours to win again, not just for … the team but also having that sense of purpose back that I’m sure COVID has taken away from a bunch of people, so it felt good to kind of get back to ‘normal,’” Murrin said.
Three other Ramblers also made the top five. Junior Kathleen Simms came in just over 30 seconds behind Murrin at 17:26.7, with senior Mimi Reimers making third at 17:30.1 and junior Claire Hengesbaugh getting fifth at 17:38.0. The four were all named to the First Team All-MVC while junior Anya Brett, who took 15th at 18:27.8, was named an All-MVC Honorable Mention.
“It almost felt exactly like a repeat of last year, just the amount of training we’ve done and work with each other and seeing that, you know, our top four were still there this year as they were last year,” Murrin said. “We’ve all progressed as a group very well and having the new freshman come into the play was definitely exciting to see and it gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
After the team’s 2019 win, assistant head coach Alan Peterson said they were eyeing a second consecutive title, but looking to reach new goals too.
“This year we definitely focused on winning again and knowing that we could do that, but it’s also setting our sights a little higher now, like … Anneka [Murrin] getting to go to the national meet,” Peterson said. “It definitely feels good to be able to come in and defend especially when you know other people are really trying to come at you for that.”
He said he’s confident in his squad but was happy to see Brett place as the Rambler’s fifth finisher.
“I think Anya Brett being our fifth and really coming through and not even making it close with Bradley, I think she definitely came through in the clutch and definitely sealed the deal for us,” Peterson said.
The men’s team finished at 92 points. Junior Blake Buysse made a ninth-place finish in the 8K race at 25:29.4, earning All-Valley honors. Chantz Visse, also a junior, finished in 15th place at 25:52.2, giving him an All-MVC Honorable Mention.
Juniors Nick Chudzik and Stephen Pipilas came in 22nd and 23rd, respectively, while Ian Cummings, also a junior, followed with a 26th place finish.
“We had hoped to finish higher, but came up short,” Loyola assistant coach Mircea Bogdan said in a press release. “Blake and Chantz both ran well today. Almost everyone that competed today is returning for us in the fall, which gives us plenty of hope.”
While cross country season normally happens in the fall, the MVC delayed it to spring as a result of COVID-19 concerns.
Instead of coming into the fall season after a summer of training, as Peterson described, the team had to adjust to the spring season.
“I think we just adapted really well to those different changes and they took it in stride and they bought in and they were ready to go,” Peterson said. “So I think they did a really good job … just what’s being asked of them with testing and, you know, everything else, different protocols, yeah definitely makes it a little bit more enjoyable knowing that everything you put in definitely paid off.”
The women’s NCAA Championship is slated for March 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Sports Editor Abby Schnable contributed reporting to this story.