WOU runners hit their stride

Seniors Dustin Nading and Tyler Jones finished 109th place and 60th, respectively in the 2018 national championship cross-country race.

Chris Oertell/for the Itemizer-Observer
Seniors Dustin Nading and Tyler Jones finished 109th place and 60th, respectively in the 2018 national championship cross-country race.

MONMOUTH — Seniors Dustin Nading and Tyler Jones have crossed the finish line on their collegiate cross-country careers at Western Oregon University.

In a national championship race that literally kept them on their toes.

“It was probably the worst course I’ve ever ran on, and I’ve run on a lot of cross-country courses,” Nading said. “It was just muddy the whole way through, and incredibly congested. And again, just mud everywhere, the whole thing’s on a slant; it was definitely a rugged course.”

“There were very few points in the race where we could actually relax and get into a rhythm and run,” Jones said, echoing Nading, “because we had to just be so alert and stay on our feet the whole time to prevent ourselves from falling.”

The 10,000-meter NCAA DII national championship race in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a looped course, which the 261 runners on the men’s team toured five times.

The mucky conditions resulted in slower running times for the participants, although for Nading, he bumped up from a 202nd finish last year to placing 109th this year, at 34:42.0.

“The times were very slow. It’s a course that adds three or four minutes to your times,” Nading said. “There were a ton of upsets in the race in terms of the team title or individuals or people who were All-Americans, and so the course really played a big factor in the kind of race that it was.”

Jones didn’t let the conditions hinder his performance too much, because he crossed the line in 60th place at 33:56.8 and the fifth-best finish for WOU history, compared to a 118th-place last year.

“The goal was to be top 40 going in, but given a certain course with different conditions, maybe I could have done that, however I was just short, but I am content with how I did,” Jones said.

Jones has never qualified individually for cross-country nationals, so getting to go — and performing in the top-60 — was something he said he didn’t think he could do.

“Going into it, I had nationals in my mind, but it was more on a team aspect,” Jones said. “I wanted to go as a team, and we were so close to making it that it was a bummer that we didn’t go as a team, but to be able to qualify individually was a goal that I had never even thought of in the beginning, and to be able to accomplish that was way over my standards.”

To cap off his first individual national championship experience, Jones was the recipient of an award that recognizes an athlete’s accomplishments in the classroom. He double majors in mathematics and business, with a focus in accounting, and maintains a 4.0 grade-point average.

“I recently received the Elite-90 award, which is given to the individual at the national championships with the highest GPA,” Jones said. “Out of the 261 men that competed, I had the highest GPA and the most credits. My double major was helping me out, all those extra credits I take,” he added, chuckling. “It was unexpected, but it was awesome. It was just an accumulation of all the hard work the last few years. It meant a lot.”

As both men gear up for their next challenge — indoor track — they take a moment to reflect on their four years of running cross-country with WOU.

“I’m a little sad,” Jones said. “I was a big cross-country guy in high school. I’ve always been a huge fan of the sport and the courses, so I’m a little sad that it was my last cross-country race, but I’ll definitely be that guy in the future running those community races around town, doing my best to keep my love for it going.”

It’s a little different for Nading.

“I’ll certainly miss the sport, and I think that will continue to grow the longer I’m out of it, but track is definitely where my strengths lie,” he said. “So for me, right now, after nationals, I’m like, man that was my last cross-country meet, but I’m happy it’s track season. So right now the passion I feel for track, and the excitement I feel, it definitely outweighs the sadness or remorse I’m feeling for the end of cross.”

Indoor track begins mid-January, and on the heels of a successful 2018 season.

Last year, five WOU runners received All-Americans, and the men’s team took their second national championship title for the Distance Medley Relay; Nading, along with graduates AJ Holmberg, Aaron Whitaker and David Ribich formed the quartet.

This year, three of the four DMR runners might be gone, but Nading isn’t concerned, and he’s got his sights set on another national championship title.

“I’m excited; I think we have lots of potential to repeat as a team, which would be huge,” he said. “D II in the past has had some two-time championships, back to back, but I don’t know if there’s been a three-time.” He paused for a moment, then, “That would be something.”

Head coach Mike Johnson isn’t worried about the next handful of men who will form this year’s DMR team. To Johnson, the holes left by the graduated trio will have little impact on the success of the relay team.

“I don’t see any difference. I see no difference at all. We have a great group of guys,” he said. “We have people that are experienced at running at a national level. We have freshman that might be in the group; we have probably 10 guys to fill four spots. Our expectations don’t change — and that’s not to go to run and win, we want to go first to run and do the best job they can. I think if they do that, we’ll have a really good shot at winning. But you can’t expect to win if you don’t take care of business first. And that’s what we need to do: take care of business and have a good time.”

As for goals that Johnson has for the team, he said, smiling, “yeah, I do. Ask me after the first meet, and I’ll give you a fair answer.”

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