Trojan sports have dominated across the board this season. Women’s soccer reached the conference semifinals. Volleyball has won the Crossroads League and is in the hunt for a national title. Men’s and women’s golf finished in the top 12 in the nation. Cross country now joins the corps of Trojan victors this season.
Taylor Cross Country ended the regular season strong at last weekend’s Crossroads League (CL) tournament. Both the men’s and women’s teams will be heading to the NAIA National Championships in Tallahassee, Florida on November 18th.
The women’s team finished their perfect season (98-0) and finished the year No. 1 in the NAIA. Abbey Brennan, a fifth-grader, finished the CL tournament with the second-best overall time and was joined by six other Taylor runners, who filled more than half of the tournament’s top 12.
Taylor also had the smallest gap between her first and fifth runners at just over 30 seconds — a full 36 seconds faster than second-placed Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). The win gave the Trojans their tenth consecutive conference championship to continue their reign on the Crossroads League Cross Country throne.
As the women’s team prepares for the national tournament, they are led by Brennan, junior Ahna VanderWall and freshman Noel VanderWall. The three runners have finished in the top ten at every competition Taylor has competed in this season. Seven different members of the team were also crowned with All-Crossroads League honors, which only added to Taylor’s impressive resume.
As the women prepare for the trek to Florida, Brennan says the team doesn’t feel the pressure to have a target on their back when the team is looking to beat it.
“We’re feeling really good…our coach (head coach Quinn White) definitely encourages us to…not put any extra pressure on ourselves or be nervous or worried, just run how we run and how we know how to.” running,” Brennan said.
The men’s team (68-35) isn’t slowing down in preparation for the Nationals either. They followed up a strong showing at the Great Lakes Challenge in October with a third-place finish at the CL tournament. Ryan Hanak, a freshman, advanced Taylor at the tournament to finish 13th overall and helped lead the Trojans to a strong third place just behind IWU and Huntington University.
The team’s performance resulted in three Trojans (elderly Josh Harden, freshman Luke Harber and Hanak) being named to the All-Crossroads League. Taylor also finishes the regular season ranked 14th in the season-ending poll — her highest ranking of the year.
“The plan for us was that we go out there and do what we did … we were just trying to qualify for Nationals … nothing special,” Hanak said.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will be doing their best on the 18th – the men’s team will be looking to win their second title in three years, while the women’s team is aiming for their first national title in program history. Both sides have the team chemistry and drive to push themselves to become the best in the nation.
“The atmosphere has been so great this year… we really believe in ourselves and really want to go out there and do our best… we’ve done a great job… lots of encouragement,” Brennan said.
Hanak said, “Coach (White) makes it a point to … run together, so we’re going to talk … and push each other … You can work together and push to the end.”
Taylor Cross Country has the potential to bring home some hardware just before Thanksgiving and the holiday season, and only Tallahassee, Fla. knows who the NAIA champion will be.