Saint Mary cross country brings home 4th-place combined program trophy

Derek Wiley/Leavenworth Times
CherryRoad Media
The Saint Mary men’s and women’s cross country teams show off their trophies won at the NAIA National Championship Friday in Vancouver, Washington.

Coach Alstin Benton believed this year’s Saint Mary cross country program was the best in school history.

At Friday’s NAIA National Championship meet in Vancouver, Washington, the Spires proved it.

After the men finished as national runner-up, the women placed a program-best seventh.

“They came in and were just really focused,” Benton said of this year’s teams. “From day one, it’s the most focused group I’ve ever had. They wanted to get the most out of themselves. They wanted to challenge themselves. Whenever you commit like that, you’re going to end up getting great results.”

Saint Mary also took home a combined program trophy for the first time, finishing fourth.

“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” Benton said. “It shows we’re not just a men’s program. We’re a successful men and women’s program. Those teams that win those combined trophies are always good programs and something we’ve always wanted to accomplish.” 

The Spires had two runners finish in the top 10. In the men’s 8K race, senior Johnathan Bowen placed seventh in 25:15.2. Junior Alyssa Armendariz then took 10th in 18:37.2 in the women’s 5K race.

“Finishing in the top 10 in the country is no joke in cross country,” Benton said. “It was awesome to see (Bowen) go for it and really get after it. Same thing for Alyssa, she just went for it and put herself out there.”

Saint Mary also had five runners named all-Americans for finishing in the top 40. Joining Bowen on the men’s side were Luke Skinner (25th, 25:44.8) and Brig Merritt (39th, 25:52). Riley Hiebert placed 38th in 18:59.6 in the women’s race.

“Running has just gotten really deep over the last several years,” Benton said. “If you were looking at the times from the meet, you wouldn’t say it’s fast because it was a muddy, swampy, slippery mess out there.”

Benton credited Saint Mary’s nine seniors for the program’s success.

“They’ve really helped lead our program and created a culture that’s allowed us to be successful, which made my job easy and I couldn’t be more thankful,” he said.