Kansas Wesleyan Cross Country coach Kyle Hiser knew that Stephanie Martinez (JR/Horizon City, Texas) had a chance to be one of the top finishers as Saturday’s Kansas Conference Championship meet at GreatLife Salina.
Little did he know that Martinez would end up being the best runner in Saturday’s field.
Fueled by an amazing kick over the last 800m, Martinez won the KCAC Women’s Cross Country Individual title and earned a second straight trip to the NAIA National Championships.
“We talked about being elite in March, taking the next step was our plan as soon as COVID shut down track season,” Hiser said of Martinez. “Just showing the rest of the conference that the indoor 5K wasn’t a fluke and Stephanie was someone to be taken seriously.
“She showed that today, ran a perfect race today, taking the lead with 600 meters left, and running like one of the top runners in the country.”
Martinez was in third with about 800m to go, but as the winding course came down the final hill and turned for home, she turned on the afterburners and outran Friends’ Aubry Donley and Saint Mary’s Riley Hiebert to claim the crown. Martinez’s time of 19:35.2 over the 5K course was over five seconds better than Donley.
Tabetha Deines (JR/Salina, Kan.) also qualified for the NAIA National Championships, earning Honorable Mention All-KCAC honors along the way with a 13th place finish, covering the course in 20:48.9.
Freshman Christina Tripp (FR/Dayton, Idaho) finished 23rd for the Coyotes in 21:30.4, Jadin Bezdicek (SR/Jackson, Minn.) was 27th in 21:50.7, Daniella Gaona (FR/Clifton, Texas) was 36th in 22:21.2, Regan Rhodes (SO/Mullinville, Kan.) was 45th in 23:14.3, and Cindy Sheaffer (SO/Oberlin, Kan.) was 77th in 26:05.5 for the Coyotes.
“As a team, we executed our plan finishing in third with strong performances from Cindy Scheaffer, Regan Rhodes, Daniella Gaona, and Jadin Bezdicek. Tabetha was an all-conference performer and qualified for nationals solidifying herself as one of the top distance runners in our conference,” Hiser said. “Christina Tripp had an unfortunate fall that took her out of qualifying position but finished off her freshman campaign strong.”
KWU finished third in the team standings with 90 points. Saint Mary was the team champion with 25 points, followed by Friends with 59.
Tabor was fourth with 120 points, followed by York, Bethany, Bethel, Southwestern, Sterling, McPherson, Ottawa, Avila and Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Martinez and Deines will have to wait until April to compete in the National Championships, which will be held April 9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.