LA GRANDE — Alex Navarro finished his collegiate cross country career as an all-American.
The fifth-year senior accomplished his individual goal of breaking into the top 10, finishing eighth in the nation with a time of 25:07.2 to lead the Eastern Oregon University men’s cross country team to a 19th-place finish at Friday’s NAIA National Championship race in Vancouver, Washington.
“It definitely was very surreal. It wasn't until maybe my (fourth) year I could consider myself (a potential) all-American in cross,” Navarro said. “It’s weird. I was always OK at cross and saw myself as a better track runner, but you never know. One day you're the middle of the back and the next you're an all-American.”
Navarro became the second EOU runner in three years to garner a top-10 finish, besting the ninth-place effort by Nic Maszk in 2017 on the same Vancouver course. He’s the third runner this decade to finish in the top 10 for the EOU men, and fourth to earn an all-American award for a top-30 finish. Maszk (2016 and 2017), Lucas Updike (2014), Isaac Updike (2013) and D.J. Flores (2010 and 2014) also earned all-American status.
“He did a great job,” head coach Ben Welch said. “He ran an excellent race, got out really hard and was just patient. He did it by running remarkably consistent.”
Navarro's performance, furthermore, is tied for fifth-best in program history. Flores (second in 2014, fifth in 2010), Don Stearns (second in 1982) and Eric Griffiths (sixth in 2004) are the only runners to finish at nationals higher than Navarro. His effort ties the eighth-place finish by Alex McGladrey in 2004.
“That’s running with some pretty big horses,” Welch said.
Navarro was back in the pack in 81st at the 2K split, at which point he began picking runners off.
“After that it was a lot of work. Basically I went out and started head hunting, one by one, started coming back,” he said.
Navarro was one of three Mountaineer runners to finish in the top half of the 335-man field. Travis Running also finished in the top 100, placing 52nd with a time of 25:56.5. Braxton Wilson was 139th, finishing in 26:41.7.
“This is only his third year of cross country," Welch said of Running. "He raced extremely well, especially for someone as inexperienced as he is."
Hunter Nichols (27:13.5) and Hunter Schiess (27:41.2) rounded out EOU’s top five, taking 206th and 247th place, respectively.
The five scoring runners netted 509 points for the 19th-place finish, matching the rank EOU finished with a season ago.
Weyekin Wild Bill (27:47.0) and Robie Swanson (27:58.2) placed 254th and 267th, respectively.
Oklahoma City earned the national championship with a total score of 110 points. Rival College of Idaho took fifth with 203 points to pace the Cascade Collegiate Conference teams.
The Eastern Oregon women’s team, though, did not have the day it was anticipating at the national championship race.
The Mountaineers entered the race in Vancouver, Washington, ranked 11th in the nation and with hopes of a top-10 finish, but the team took 29th with 718 points and didn’t put a runner in the top 100.
“It was one of those things where if it could go wrong, it went wrong,” Welch said, noting that everything from injury flare-ups to runners starting too quickly to inexperience at the national race tripped up his squad.
Megan Boals, the Mountaineers’ No. 2 runner most of the season, led Eastern in Friday’s race with a time of 19:45.3, which placed her 142nd overall. Freshman Mackenzie Trainer trailed Boals by just 3.7 seconds, finishing in 152nd at 19:49.0.
Trainer was one of the bright spots for EOU on the rough day.
“Mackenzie ran well,” Welch said. “That's about where I figured she would run. The problem was she was our No. 2, not our No. 4.”
Michelle Herbes, Eastern’s top runner, slipped to third on the team, and 169th overall, with a time of 19:55.4 as she dealt with a hip issue. Ella Coughlan, another freshman, led the second pack of EOU runners in 249th with a time of 20:32.9, and Katie Jo Gebhardt (20:38.4) placed 255th.
Lisa Megargee (20:58.6) and Stormy Bullard (21:24.9) finished in 280th and 290th for the Mountaineers. A total of 340 runners completed the course.
Michigan's Madonna University was the national champion with 111 points, edging College of Idaho, which led the Cascade Collegiate Conference and took second with 147 points.