EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Oklahoma Baptist has its first two NCAA All-Americans.
Abby Hoover placed 31st and Sydney Lawrence 40th at the NCAA Division II Women’s Cross Country Championship Saturday, leading the team to 20th.
Hoover ran the six-kilometer course in 21:38.6, rising nine spots in the final kilometer to secure her place as the first All-American for OBU in any sport since the university became a full member of the NCAA August 1.
Hoover took a red-shirt year to be able to compete with the Lady Bison this season.
“Abby certainly paid the price for it,” said OBU Coach Matt Kennedy. “It’s one thing to sit out a year and then run, but she still had to do it. I’m just really proud of her for the time and the self-sacrifice she put in. And for her to be the first OBU All-American in the D2 era is a big deal.”
Hoover was 79th after the first kilometer but moved in and stayed in the top 40 from the two-kilometer mark on.
“It was tough to sit out,” Hoover said. “I had an injury while I was out so I didn’t get to race very much and there was just so much emphasis on this year and this race. We all worked hard to get here.”
Lawrence was 83rd after the first kilometer and moved steadily through the ranks, peaking at 36th after five kilometers. She held on for 40th and the final All-America spot with a time of 21:43.0.
“Sydney just steadily moved up and that’s just how she runs,” Kennedy said. “She is a smart, gritty, tough runner. That’s characteristic of her and the team as a whole and a lot of that has to do with her leadership.”
Kaylee Crowson, who has battled injury, was unable to finish after going about four kilometers. She was 147th after the first kilometer.
“It’s heartbreak mixed with pride with Kaylee,” Kennedy said. “I told her that her legacy was cemented long ago, not today. She has been running since August with this injury. She is the spirit and joy of this team and she’s going to do great things in the future.”
Emily Sechrist placed 115th at 22:41.2. She was 219th after the first kilometer and moved up at least 10 places with each following kilometer. Sechrist moved up 37 places in the second kilometer and 43 places in the final two kilometers.
“The word you think of with Emily is consistency,” Kennedy said. “She is just extremely solid at that spot. She moved up throughout the race and that is just typical of Emily.”
With Crowson going down, OBU needed Tesa Potter, Daisy VanMeter and Megan Allen to finish well.
Potter was 183rd at 23:24.6 and moved up 41 places in the second three kilometers and settled in from there. VanMeter was 230th and moved up 14 spots after the opening kilometer, finishing in 24:46.8. Allen was not far behind in 232nd at 24:53, jumping 15 spots after the first kilometer.
“Tesa and Daisy had to step up and they both had good races,” Kennedy said. “Daisy did not finish at the regional. Megan just gets better every race.”
As a team, OBU had 523 points. Perennial power Adams State won with 126 points, edging Mary at 137. For Kennedy, the 20th place finish was only a little disappointing.
“We didn’t come her for 20th, but it is a good starting place for our program going forward,” Kennedy said. “We beat a lot of people and I am just so proud of this team.”
For the All-Americans, the race ranged from intimidating to thrilling.
“I was a little bit intimidated, but I wanted to run smart,” Lawrence said. “I didn’t want to go out too fast and fall apart. I was hearing (place) numbers getting smaller and smaller – 70, 60, 40 and on and we were running out of ground. I don’t have a great kick so I was thinking I had to step it up and keep going.”
Hoover said she went out near the lead pack but was quickly hemmed in.
“There was a lot of people and a lot of yelling.” Hoover said. “I was hearing the numbers and was somewhere around 37th. My dad was at about the 400 mark and told me I needed to pass five people. I was thinking I was 45th so I just gave it my best and when I crossed the line and they told me I was 31st, I thought ‘I wasn’t 45th!’ but I’m glad he told me that because it just made me finish strong.”
The honor of first All-Americans at a tradition-rich school holds great meaning for the runners.
“I ran the last NAIA season and the first NCAA championship,” Hoover recalled. “The Lord has been so good to me all my years at OBU. We all ran this race for each other, too. I’ll never forget this.”
“We started out this year looking for ways to go out and glorify God,” Lawrence said. “We don’t really get that opportunity during the race, so we try to do it in little ways, like the way we conduct ourselves. This is another opportunity to give glory to God.”