Minutes before the cannon boomed to start the National Junior College Athletic Association's national championship meet, held in Fort Dodge last Saturday, the Spartan men huddled for the final time in 2013 about 100 meters from the starting line.
"Remember our team rules — always do what is right, never what is wrong, do everything to the best of your ability and show people you really care," said SWCC Head Coach Bill Huntington from the middle of the huddle. "Let's be great Spartans."
In a field of 55 represented teams, the Southwestern Community College men finished 26th at the national championship meet, improving seven spots from the previous season.
Freshman Ben Friederichs led the squad, covering the 8K course in 28:12 and finished 114th out of the 298 runners.
Sophomores Gage Beers and Joe Bierl followed in 28:52 and 29:02 respectively.
"Ben and I being able to run together really made a difference in my race," Beers said. "I feel if he wouldn't have been there, I wouldn't have ran as well and he told me after the race I helped him, otherwise he wouldn't have ran as well as he did."
Freshman Ovan Garcia averaged 5:54 per mile, crossing the finish line in 29:12. Teammate Rayvonne Brown, sophomore, rounded out the scoring, placing 199th.
Freshmen Aaron Ward and Cassidy Warson also ran for the Spartan men.
"The team camaraderie we had during the race was great," Beers said. "During my time at SWCC I was lucky to have two great teams to run on."
Iowa Central Community College — host of the national meet and the Region XI champion — finished second overall and had the national runner-up individual, Frankline Tonui.
"All season we were right on the edge of being ranked in the national polls and today we proved we can compete as one of the top 26 teams in the nation," Huntington said.
In late-August, the Spartan women ran their first 5k as a team at the Region XI time trial in Mason City.
At the national championship meet Saturday, each SWCC runner on the women's team took at least three minutes off their 5k time from the start of the season.
The team finished 34th overall.
"This season we got to see a group of individuals evolve into a team of runners," Huntington said. "What these ladies accomplished this season is amazing."
Freshman Sarah McKeon paced the Spartans with a 22:12 for her 5k. She shaved just under five minutes off of her 5k time at the first meet of the year, 27:01.
Freshman Hannah Murphy followed with a 22:40. Teammate Kristin Klocksiem, sophomore, ran her best 5k ever, 24:01.
"I thought the team did well considering where we started at the beginning of the season," Klocksiem said.
Murphy and Klocksiem are dual athletes for Southwestern. Klocksiem will quickly make the transition to the hardwood to help the Spartan women's basketball team and Murphy with continue to train through the off-season to prepare for indoor track and softball.
"My favorite part of of the season was the close family we became with each other, whether it was making jokes or having a movie night," Klocksiem said.
Iowa Central won the women's team title and had the individual champion.
Freshmen Elizabeth Hurley-Boyd and Aspen Riley were the final two scorers for SWCC, running 24:57 and 28:42 respectively.
Riley's time was also a five-minute improvement from the first race of the season.
Sophomore Katie Stevens also ran for the Spartan women.
"All of our athletes grew this season as runners, students, and most importantly as people," Huntington said. "They committed to the program and will be able to use the endurance they gained this season for the upcoming track season."