CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Nov. 21, 2015) – With the Milligan College men’s and No. 18 women’s cross-country teams qualified for nationals together for the first time since 2008, juniors Hannah Segrave and Taylor Tafelsky did not disappoint, leading their squads to 15th and 27th place finishes, respectively, at the 2015 Cross Country National Championships at McAlpine Creek Park.
The perfect conditions of the race, 50 degree weather with a light breeze and clear skies, served as a great introduction to the national stage for the Buffaloes, who had nine of their 14 competitors that were lined up experiencing the national championships for the first time.
Additionally, Milligan raced without a single senior, setting up a hopeful return to the final event next year.
Segrave, the reigning AAC Runner of the Year, finished the 5k race seventh overall in a field of 321 with a time of 17:47.3, and earned the highest-ever finish and time in Milligan cross-country history at nationals.
Meanwhile, Tafelsky finished 24th in the 8k field of 326 runners with a time of 25:10.6, marking the best finish and best time on the men’s side since Austin Ellis finished ninth (24:18) in 2011. Both Segrave and Tafelsky reached NAIA All-American status with their finishes.
For Segrave, who ran the second fastest time in her career after breaking Milligan’s 5k record at the Sand Shark Invitational earlier this season, the All-American recognition was the third in her career and first in cross-country as she became the seventh All-American in Milligan women’s cross-country history.
“Hannah gave us another really strong performance up front and it’s mind blowing to see how far she has come since last season,” said Layne. “She is so young to cross country and this will give her a great foundation as we transition to the track.”
Tafelsky’s time was his fastest of the season, and his All-American recognition marked the second time in his career, first time in cross-country, he has earned that. Additionally, he finished as the top AAC performer in the final race of the season and became the sixth All-American in Milligan men’s cross-country history.
“Taylor has the ability to hit the switch and all week it felt like he was going to have a good one,” said Layne. “He’s a talented young man and I hope he uses this as momentum for the track season ahead.”
Segrave was followed by sophomore JJ Robinson (58th/18:41.9) in the top 100 on the women’s side. Junior Amber Grello (118th/19:08.6) and freshman Alissa Furches (125th/19:11.8) both finished in the top 125, while sophomore Sarah Kate Gartman (262nd/20:22.8), sophomore Ashton Bunch (283rd/20:42.1) and freshman Kaitlynn Ellis (301st/21:04.04) rounded out the finishers for the women. Milligan finished with 435 points, eight behind Southern Oregon in 14th and 50 from a spot in the top 12.
Furches, who was named to the AAC All-Freshmen team, saved her best race for last, running a personal best by 37 seconds to run 19:11.
“All season long these women have backed each other up and today was another strong team effort”, added Layne. “Alissa stepped up big-time with a personal best, Hannah ran the second fastest time of her career and JJ had a really strong run. There are places we need to get better and we will, but this is a young squad that gained tremendous experience.”
The women’s team, who came into Saturday ranked No. 18 in the final regular-season NAIA Coaches’ Poll, exceeded their last season ranking with a 15th-place finish for the third time in the last five seasons, while the men’s team, who came in the race receiving votes in the coaches’ poll, finished 27th in their first team appearance at the event in seven years.
The women’s team has now finished in the top 15 at the national championships eight times during its streak of 13 straight national championship appearances. In each of those seasons, Milligan has won the Appalachian Athletic Conference and Coach Layne has been named the AAC Coach of the Year. The team’s highest finish came in 2007 when the Buffs took third. They followed the next year by taking fourth.
Junior Brandon Ellis (26:34.8) and freshman Jay Solinger (26:53.5), who was named the AAC Freshman of the Year, were next on the men’ side with finishes of 146th and 187th, respectively. The men’s team was rounded out by junior Peter Mermilliod (27:20.8) in 244th, freshman Eric Shull (27:37.7) in 271st, junior Jake Bartlett (28:07.4) in 297th and sophomore Sam Bratton (28:39.6) in 313th. The Milligan men finished with 666 points, nine behind Northwestern (Iowa) in 26th.
“After a quick first 400 meters the field seemed to back off and bunched up,” said Layne. “I think a lot of our guys simply got caught stuck deep in the field and they couldn’t get out to respond. We talked about this but sometimes you have to experience this type of environment and ultimately learn from it.”
Now that cross-country season is over, the Buffaloes will turn their attention to the track & field season which starts Friday-Saturday, Dec. 4-5, with a trip to Appalachian State University in nearby Boone, North Carolina, for the Appalachian Open.