ELSAH, Illinois — Southern Oregon had neither the big names nor the flashy finishes at Saturday's NAIA Cross Country Championships.
When the Raiders' first placer, Connor Cushman, came in at 16th, they were more of an afterthought. When the dust settled a few minutes later, they were national champions.
SOU, ranked third coming into the day, nickeled and dimed the rest of the field to death at North Farms Cross Country Course in capturing the team's second men's title. Cushman was the only All-American (top-30) finisher, completing the 8,000-meter course in 24 minutes 59.8 seconds. The Raiders prevailed because their other four scorers packed behind him and closed within the next 35 seconds: Dylan Alexander was 33rd (25:18.4), Noah Oberriter 37th (25:20.7), Ray Schireman 44th (25:31.1) and Kevin Poteracke 47th (25:34.9).
SOU accrued 122 team points, edging out Saint Francis (Ill.) with 148 points and British Columbia with 152.
British Columbia, ranked No. 1 before the race, featured the fourth, fifth and 26th-place performers, but its fourth and fifth scorers placed 62nd and 108th. Like SOU, second-ranked Saint Francis produced just one All-American in 25th place, but its fourth and fifth fell to 53rd and 64th. The average time of SOU's scorers (25:21) was seven seconds behind British Columbia's (25:13) and six seconds better than Saint Francis (25:27).
SOU's sixth and seventh runners, Caleb Diaz (26:12.3) and Matthew Williams (26:25.4), placed 126th and 167th.
Bacone (Okla.) senior Jackson Thomas claimed the individual title in 23:50.2, beating out William Carey (Miss.) junior Geoffrey Kipchumba by seven seconds.
The Oklahoma City Stars had won the last three championships. SOU joined as the only active NAIA teams with multiple titles.
The Raiders' first came in 2010, and since then they'd gotten acquainted with heartbreak. Their 2011 team was third in the team standings, their next three teams finished second, and the 2015 squad was No. 2 in the polls entering the national meet but got hit by an illness that sidelined three runners and diminished the effort of a couple others, dropping them to 23rd overall.
When they won their first national title, they were represented by three All-Americans. They had a total of seven during the three-year stretch of second-place finishes, but their fifth and final scorer was never better than 63rd.
Only two Raiders — Cushman and Diaz — started the day with national meet experience, and Cushman's best showing in his two prior trips was 108th. Williams, the team's only fifth-year senior, and Alexander, a two-time track All-American and the 2014 5K national champ, were running in Raider uniforms for the last time.
SOU 8K RESULTS (331 total finishers)
16. Connor Cushman, 24:59.8
33. Dylan Alexander, 25:18.4
37. Noah Oberriter, 25:20.7
44. Ray Schireman, 25:31.1
47. Kevin Poteracke, 25:34.9
126. Caleb Diaz, 26:12.3
167. Matthew Williams, 26:25.4
TEAM SCORES (Top 15) — 1. Southern Oregon 122, 2. St. Francis (Ill.) 148, 3. British Columbia 152, 4. College of Idaho 218, 5. The Masters (Calif.) 261, 6. Northwestern (Iowa) 306, 7. Oklahoma City 313, 8. Cornerstone (Mich.) 315, 9. Lewis-Clark (Idaho) 320, 10. Shawnee State (Ohio) 328, 11. Missouri Valley 338, 12. Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) 341, 13. Eastern Oregon 348, 14. Marian (Ind.) 392, 15. St. Mary (Kan.) 392