Croup’s Corner – Cross country prepares for biggest run yet

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

They started the season talking about a suburb of Portland, Ore.

Their goals and standards were set beyond the conference championships.

They knew of their potential long before their first meet and have rightfully looked forward to this weekend since the summer.

Now, their wait is over as their standards keep rising. They’ll finally meet the city they’ve talked about since the preseason against the best runners in the nation.

The cross country teams travel to Vancouver, Wash. this weekend for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Championships.

The women enter the weekend as the champions of the River States Conference (RSC) and with one of the top runners in the nation.

Anna Shields has led the way for the Pioneers this season and has dominated the hundreds of runners that she’s gone up against en route to earning the 2017 RSC Runner of the Year award.

The Connecticut-native came into this season on a mission. Track season is and always has been her bread and butter, but she knew she had a chance to do something special on the cross country course this year.

She’s been nothing but special this year and has every intention on competing for the individual national championship.

Shields finished 60th at last year’s national championship meet and tied a school record in the 5K race with her time of 18 minutes, 20.61 seconds.

Her offseason work helped her jump start her 2017 campaign in the first meet of the regular season. Shields won the Walsh University Invitational in September and broke her school record by 1 minute, 2 seconds.

Her winning time of 17 minutes, 19 seconds would have given her a fourth-place finish at last year’s national championship. To earn NAIA All-American honors this weekend, Shields will have to place in the top 30 runners.

This year, six of her teammates on the women’s side will join the top seven men’s runners on the flight to Vancouver for the national championship.

The men qualified with their second-place finish last week at the RSC Championship, led by sophomore Xavier Stephens.

Head coach Kelly Parsley hyped up the teams at the beginning as the season as the best he’s brought in at Point Park, highlighted by a recruiting class that brought the depth to the team necessary to compete for a national championship berth.

The teams have lived up to their expectations so far this year and continue to push the boundaries for the limits of the Point Park cross country program.

Point Park has been represented at the national championship meet every year since 2011. This year marks the second time since 2015 that the men’s and women’s teams each earned spots in the meet.

I wrote earlier this season that this year’s squads could have their best seasons in program history. This weekend they can seal the deal on that historic season.

They took care of business in Kentucky two weekends ago. Now it’s time to continue to write history.