It was a bittersweet ending for the Gonzaga men’s cross-country team at the 2020-2021 NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Monday, March 15, after a historic season in which the program secured its first team bid to the big dance.
The Bulldogs came into the meet ranked a program best 14th in the coaches’ poll with high expectations after a second-place finish at the West Coast Conference Championships but finished 27th out of 30 teams scoring 591 points.
“These guys really wanted to do something more special than getting to the big dance for the first time ever,” said GU Director of Cross Country Pat Tyson.
“We wanted to put ourselves in a position where we could have made the top 10, and we were after 2k," Tyson said. "We didn’t go out timidly on what is probably the toughest college cross country course in America.”
Six of the seven GU runners made their national meet debut including redshirt junior Yacine Guermali who led the way for the Bulldogs with a program best 55th place finish running a time of 31:03 for the 10k race.
Guermali, who suffered an injury in spring 2019 that kept him out of racing the following fall, was in the mix to be an All-American finisher for about an 8k of the race before dropping back 15 spots for the last 2k.
“He is such a competitor,” Tyson said. “He puts himself in those situations to be in the race and to do it on this course was good for him. I’m very happy with his progress, especially where he has been, and the exciting thing is he has two more cross country seasons with us.”
Redshirt senior Peter Hogan finished 79th in 31:16.7 and redshirt freshman Evan Bates was 134th running 32:02.8. Redshirt junior Dominic Arce and freshman Wil Smith rounded out the top five scoring finishing 211th and 217th running 33:08.3 and 33:18.7 respectively .
Junior James Mwaura made his second appearance at the national meet placing 225th in a time of 33:44.6. Redshirt junior Cullen McEachern was the final Bulldog to cross the finish line at 33:56.7 placing 227th.
Although the season didn’t end the way they wanted it to, Tyson knows they have accomplished so much over the last 16 months and should be proud for what is to come for the men’s program.
“We’re going home with our hearts hurt, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Tyson said. “We wanted to show people what we were about, and I felt like we didn’t do that, but these guys are young and inexperienced so we will be back to prove who we are soon. It’s an honor to have made it to the NCAA’s, but with the Zags, it’s an expectation now.”
BYU junior Conner Mantz took home the individual crown for the first time in his career running 29:26.1 to win by 22 seconds over Florida State junior Adriaan Wildschutt.
Northern Arizona won the team title for the fourth time in five years defeating Notre Dame scoring 60 points led by freshman phenom Nico Young’s fourth place finish.
On the women’s team, junior Kristen Garcia was the lone representative for GU as she finished 129th in a time of 21:44.1 for the 6k race.
Garcia took a stumble early in the race but managed to get back up and finish strong in her best finish at the NCAA’s according to women’s Head Coach Jake Stewart via Twitter.
Alabama junior Mercy Chelangat won the individual women’s title running 20:01.1 beating out Oklahoma State sophomore Taylor Roe, a native of Lake Stevens, Washington, by six seconds.
The BYU women won the program’s first-ever cross-country team title defeating North Carolina State as the Cougars scored 96 points led by senior Anna Camp’s 11th place finish.
The GU men's and women's cross country teams make a quick turnaround as they hit the track on Friday for their track and field opener at Whitworth University.