Conditions were less than ideal when the Southwestern Community College Spartans reached the University of Arkansas agricultural site here Saturday morning for the Chile Pepper Festival cross country race.
After arriving at the race site, lightning pushed back the start of the race more than 90 minutes and a constant downpour created a flash flood on parts of the course.
"The conditions were less than ideal for personal best times, but everybody had to run in it," head coach Bill Huntington said. "Our guys and ladies had a great attitude and used the poor conditions to their advantage against some tough Division I competition."
When the Spartan men finally were able to toe the line, just to their left was Baylor University and the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University were to their right.
"We were all nervous, I have never ran at something that big and it was the most D-I colleges I had ever seen in one place," Spartan sophomore Gage Beers said. "As soon as the gun wen off, it became just like any other race."
Also in the field of more than 300 runners was the defending national champion from Texas Tech University, Kennedy Kenziah.
Beers led the Spartans on the soggy 8K course in 29:04, ahead of top seven varsity finishers for multiple D-I programs, including TCU.
Ben Friederichs, Aaron Ward, Rayvonne Brown and Chasen Selsor rounded out the team scoring for the Spartans.
"As a team, we had our hands full, but our individual performaces were outstanding," Huntington said. "This was the first time we have taken a team to a race of this caliber and they handled it well."
Beers added that the experience and confidence gained from running against nationally ranked programs will give the team more confidence late in the season when SWCC competes in smaller meets.
"Knowing that I can keep up with D-I programs really makes me want to push up toward the front of the pack in smaller meets," Beers said. "Closing in on the end of the season I need to keep focused and make sure that I am running smart."
For the women, Hannah Murphy and Sarah McKeon took advantage of the shorter 5K distance, setting personal best times despite the tough race conditions.
"Our ladies really stepped it up," Huntington said. "It takes a lot of guts to go out and compete for a seasonal best against some of the best teams in the nation. To not shy away from that level of competition speaks volumes for the heart these girls have."
The Spartan women have raced at the 6K distance at several meets this year to improve their strength for the regional and national championship, which is only a 5K.
Sophomore Kristin Klocksiem and teammates Libby Hurley-Boyd and Aspen Riley scored for the Spartans. Katie Stevens was the sixth runner for the Spartans.
"It is going to be a race they remember for the rest of their lives," Huntington said. "Their place and time won't matter, but the experience to toe the line in those conditions against that caliber of competition will be a highlight of their college career."
The Spartans have the week off from racing to focus on training and to recover for the regional championship Oct. 26 in Mason City.