Point Park Women’s Cross Country finishes first in the NAIA Great Lakes Challenge

Written By Antonio Rossetti, Co-Sports Editor

On October 23, Point Park Cross Country competed in their fourth meet this year, where they competed in the annual NAIA Great Lakes Challenge. This year, the women’s team finished the 5k first out of 36 teams. The meet took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan with the men’s meet at 11:45 a.m. and the women’s meet at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday.

The Pioneers did not compete in the Great Lakes Challenge last year. Point Park’s last time in the meet was in 2019, where the women’s team finished 20th out of 26 teams. This year was a redemption year for the Pioneers.

Point Park’s women team tallied 142 points, which was 11 points ahead of second place. The Pioneers had four runners in the top 35 overall.

Point Park’s top runner was Alyssa Campbell who finished third out of all 245 runners. The senior runner finished the 5,000 meter in 18:12.00. Following Campbell in the top seven were freshman Jana Schmidt (19:35.50), sophomore Allison Plassio (19:57.80), senior Alyssa Boyd (20:02.90), senior Alyssa Frausto (20:36.50), freshman Sophia Lee-Hauser (21:26.30) and junior Natalia Zucco (21:32.20).

Alyssa Campbell had yet another impressive finish. The senior runner has been providing success for the team all year, finishing in second out of all runners in the Bethany Invitational, second in the Carnegie Mellon Invitational and now third in the NAIA Great Lakes Challenge. For Campbell, she and the team knew this meet was a meet that they needed to do well in.

“Ever since our race at Schenley two weeks ago, we’ve been hungry for redemption,” Campbell said. “We know that we are better than our performance at CMU (Carnegie Mellon Invitational), so we had a heavy competitive drive to perform well.”
Campbell was a major factor in their first-place finish. However, she said she realizes that it takes a team to win. Both second and third for the Pioneers were underclassmen. The team’s overall effort led them to first.

“Our girl who finished second for our team is Jana, a freshman. She’s actually been injured and had only been able to do bikes and do a few short runs for the past four weeks, so the fact that she was able to come out and do what she did today is absolutely incredible,” Campbell said.

Campbell added that she sees promise in a lot of the underclassmen runners.

“For our third girl Allie, she’s a sophomore, [and] her hard training over the summer and into the season is showing. She’s improved so much since last year. These two girls are only going to get better, and they are essential to our team’s success. They train hard, maintain a positive attitude and are super competitive. They’re going to be great leaders of the team in the future and are already setting the foundation for greatness.”

Despite the underclassmen’s help in leading the charge, the Point Park first-place finish was a team effort. Everyone came prepared and was stoked after an amazing finish. This was the women’s cross country team’s first time finishing in first place since the Midwest XC Challenge last season. In that race, Campbell led the team to victory similar to this year, running the 5k in 18:25.6.

Overall, this win gives the Pioneers a ton of momentum before the River States Conference (RSC) Championship on Saturday, Nov. 6. The first-place finish gives the team confidence and a new swagger heading into the next race.

“This race has reassured our confidence for sure. We’re ready to put in some hard workouts this week and next, to train on hills (the course at conferences is hilly), to eat clean, and sleep well,” Campbell said. “We are so hungry to win and go to nationals as a team, and I believe this race put us in the mindset of ‘we’re gonna handle it’ instead of ‘can we handle it.’”

For men’s cross country, this was their first time competing at the NAIA Great Lakes Challenge since Oct. 23, 2019. Two years ago, they finished 24th out of 26 teams.

This year, the men finished the 8k 14th out of 40 teams. This was second among the six RSC schools that competed. The Point Park men’s top seven were junior Treven Carter (27:18.40), junior Deven Carter (27:38.00), freshman Isaiah White (27:56.10), senior Doug Kostelansky (28:01.10), freshman Jannik Windelband (28:13.20), freshman Elijah James (28:18.20) and sophomore Dominic Zucco (28.40.50).

Right outside of the top seven was junior John Ziegler. Ziegler, the men’s team captain, has been instrumental in Point Park’s success, winning Point Park athlete of the month in September. Although he was not within the top seven for the team this week, the majority of the team, including Ziegler, improved their 8k times since last meet at the Carnegie Mellon Invitational where they finished 6th out of 13 teams. This improvement put them in the upper half of all teams. The constant improvement is a positive sign for the team.

“Growth is very important both mentally and physically. Seeing the practice and workouts paying off is really satisfying and encourages you to keep putting work in day in and day out,” Ziegler said. “Seeing progress also encourages us and shows our potential in terms of what we can do during conferences.”

The growth is essential for the runners for Point Park. Their hard work is finally coming to fruition. Nevertheless, this helps the underclassmen for Point Park even more as they are now fully settled in their early cross country careers. Out of the Pioneer’s top seven, three of them were freshmen.

“As the season goes on, these guys are showing why they were recruited to be a part of this team, and they are making their presence known,” Ziegler said. “We are just trying to give them a few pointers here and there, but these guys know how to run. It’s been fun seeing how much they are continuing to grow throughout the year.”

This improvement and production out of the runners has given them a boost of confidence. The Pioneers are excited to compete against their RSC rivals in two weeks. This week, they got their first glimpse against five other RSC teams. This time, the team hopes to take first place and looks to continue to improve.

“You can expect a team that’s going to be competitive and hungry for a championship in two weeks,” Ziegler said. “We’re going to go out there with a mindset of running hard and giving it everything we can put on the course.”

Men and women’s cross country continue their season on Saturday, Nov. 6 at the RSC Championship. Both teams look to qualify for the NAIA National Championship in Vancouver, Washington.