Guarnaccia, Shields qualify for National Championships

Written By Josh Croup, Editor in Chief

Katie Guarnaccia is no stranger to national championship meets, and Saturday she punched her ticket to her fifth championship.

The junior North Allegheny High School graduate and sophomore Connecticut native Anna Shields will represent Point Park at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Cross Country National Championship meet after finishing in the top five at the River States Conference (RSC) Championship meet Saturday in Beckley, W.Va.

Guarnaccia placed third overall out of 78 finishers and Shields placed fifth in the 5K race with times of 19 minutes, 37 seconds and 19 minutes, 55 seconds, respectively.

Guarnaccia missed much of the 2016 regular season meets due to class commitments, but is returning to the NAIA Cross Country National Championship meet for the third straight year. She also has appeared last season in the indoor and outdoor track and field national championships.

“It was really satisfying to be running with the team again,” Guarnaccia said. “I think I may have been a little too overconfident because I have high expectations for myself…but I’m really fortunate that I still get to go despite not winning the race.”

Guarnaccia said she talked to Asbury’s Katie Falkenberg, who won the race, about their plans for the National Championship meet.

“I’m really happy for her,” Guarnaccia said. “We’re going to push each other at nationals. We’re going to try and get All-American together. I know I have a better race in me than what I did at conferences.”

The women finished third as a team, failing to repeat as conference champions.

But Point Park will still be represented well at the National Championship meet Nov. 19 in Elsah, Ill., just outside of St. Louis.

The men did not qualify anybody for nationals and finished sixth as a team of 11 teams. Captain Chris Hunt placed 17th overall as the top Pioneer with his 8K time of 28 minutes, 46 seconds.

Sophomore Sean Hilverding had the potential to finish in the top five and advance to the National Championships. Hilverding, the team’s top runner, hurt his ankle during the race and was unable to finish.

“It wasn’t a good day for us, but we’re all so young,” Hunt said. “With our conference being more competitive this year, on top of having a bad day and on top of injuries, it just didn’t come together for us this year.”

Three of the teams’ captains, Hunt, Guarnaccia and McKenzie Wilson, are all returning next season. That has the team looking optimistically to the future.

“We took our places with dignity,” Guarnaccia. “All three of us are incredibly optimistic about next season.  We know how we can improve and how we can motivate and strengthen ourselves for next season. We’re ready to come back in top condition and take the top spots again next year.”

Hunt said the team’s spirits after Saturday’s RSC Championship impressed him.

“We’re just looking forward to the future,” Hunt said. “We’re all just ready for next year. We’re looking to the future and not looking back at the past.”

Runners in the top 30 at the National Championship meet will earn All-American status. At last year’s National Championship in Charlotte, N.C., Guarnaccia came up 11 placements short with her 5K time of 18 minutes, 28 seconds.

The NAIA Cross Country National Championships were moved from Charlotte, N.C. in September due to the state’s HB2 legislation.

“The Council of Presidents emphasized that NAIA National Championships must promote an inclusive atmosphere for all college athletes, coaches, administrators and fans,” the NAIA said in a statement. “The Council of Presidents felt that North Carolina’s HB2 law makes it challenging to guarantee that type of environment if the NAIA Cross Country Championships remained in the state.”

At the RSC Championship, Point Park’s Jenny Murtha finished eighth, just shy of qualifying for nationals. She did earn a spot on the RSC All-Conference Second Team.

Freshman Saydi Lappe was selected to represent Point Park on the RSC Women’s Cross Country Champions of Character Team, and sophomore Bradley Calleja was selected for the RSC Men’s Cross Country Champions of Character Team.

For now, Guarnaccia and Shields will rest and prepare mentally and physically for their most important meet of the season. The rest of the team will begin to condition for indoor track and field season.

The veteran Guarnaccia plans to guide Shields, who will make her first appearance at the National Championships.

“Even though there are a lot of girls, when the gun goes off, there are so many girls that are running the same pace that you are capable of running,” Guarnaccia said. “The biggest thing is to not get intimidated and to run how you can run. You deserve to be there as much as the girl next to you, the girls in front of you and the girls behind you.”