The goal is in sight for Ashland University's men's and women's cross country teams.
At the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional meet on Saturday (Nov. 5), the top five men's and women's teams, plus the top three men's and women's individuals not on a qualifying team, will advance to the Division II Championship meet, Nov. 19 in St. Leo, Fla.
For the Eagle men, a team qualification to nationals would be their fourth this decade. For the AU women, the last time the entire team went to nationals was 2011.
"Both the girls and guys teams are excited about the opportunity the lies ahead at the regional championships," said Ashland head coach Tom Scott. "The guys team will be looking to try and sneak their way into the NCAA Championships. They head into the regional meet seeded eighth, and the top five teams qualify. They know it's not going to be easy, and in order for us to qualify, we are going to have to run a smart race."
The men's 10K regional race will begin at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, with the women's 6K to follow at 12:45 p.m. Eastern.
"With most of our guys team being comprised of 10K runners on the track, this will help our chances now that the regional championships gets bumped up to 10K from 8K," Scott said. "On the women's side, we will be looking to run personal bests and seasonal bests. We have yet to run on a fast course this year, and this course at Southern Indiana is as flat and fast as it gets. We simply need to be in control the first few kilometers, and from there cut it down.
"Our goal as a women's team is to finish in the top half in the team standings and get as many Academic All-Americans as possible."
At the men's 8K 2016 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships, senior Nick Hall led the way with a sixth-place finish in 25:09.1, followed by sophomore Steven Kapes (26:00.7), senior Aubrey Jordan (26:15.3), senior Zach Humrichouser (26:24.0), senior Tommy Menyes (26:48.5) and Scott's X factor on the men's side, senior Jonathan Albaugh (26:56.3).
"The X factor on the guys team is going to be Jon Albaugh," Scott said. "The past few years, Jon has come on really strong in the postseason. Last year, he was our 8-9 guy all year, and then ended up being our fourth runner at the regional championships.
"I believe he is ready for another great performance at the regional championships again this year."
As for the AU women, sophomore Emily Schumaker (24:06.1 at the 6K GLIAC meet) has been the pacesetter all fall. At the conference meet, the order went Schumaker, senior Linda Morales (24:30.8), senior Jackie Genetin (24:52.6), freshman Johannah Stefanek (25:19.4) and senior Cortney Haubert (25:23.4).
"On the women's side, the X factors are going to be Jo Stefanek and Cortney Haubert," said Scott. "They have been running as our fourth and fifth runners, and are both ready to run lifetime personal bests."
Scott sees the Ashland men's top competition as Walsh, Hillsdale, Lewis and Bellarmine.
"Those teams are ranked fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh in the region, and we are going to have to beat this teams if we want to have a shot at going to Florida in a couple weeks," he said.
"On the women's side, our main competition will be Wayne State and Findlay. They were the teams that finished directly ahead of us at the GLIAC Championships."
As for if the men's team doesn't qualify for nationals as a whole, the odds of Hall doing it individually are on the good side.
"Nick has a great shot at qualifying as an individual if the team does not make it," Scott said. "He is a top-20 kid at the NCAA Championships. The toughest part for him will be getting there. He is capable of running with any of the guys at the regional championships, and now that he gets an extra two kilometers to race, he will move up even more on the field.
"He will have one of the fastest last two kilometers of the field."