2010 Missouri State Bears Cross Country Recap
The 2010 Missouri State cross country team was one of the younger teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bears only returned six runners from the previous season, but these returners were extremely talented. Junior Terry Phillips (the 2009 MVC individual champion as well as all-Midwest region selection) and sophomore Emily Beaver (20th best 6K time in MSU history) combined to be one of the top duos in the Valley. However, the story of the season was the Cinderella story of freshman Leah Nichols.
Nichols came to Missouri State from Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Fla. While at Timber Creek, she set 5K personal best at 19:55.06. After a few months of training under coach Hipp at MSU, Nichols dropped her personal best to 17:20.71, second-fastest time in MSU history. Additionally, in her first ever 6K race Nichols ran a 20:48.31 at the NCAA Midwest Regional, a time that puts her third on the all-time list.
"Leah's improvements through the season were phenomenal," said head coach Greg Hipp, "Her drive and work ethic took her all the way from a non-recruited walk-on to being one of the top runners in the Midwest in just a few months."
On the year, MSU ran in six races, finishing in the top-five four times. The first of these meets was the Southwest Baptist Invitational in Bolivar, Mo. on Sept. 3. Coach Hipp used this meet to see which of the underclassmen would perform best during collegiate competition. Sophomore Maggie Sutor finished second in the meet, followed closely by junior Andrea Marshall, who placed third. Three newcomers rounded out the scoring squad, with freshman Emily Argotsinger finishing ninth, redshirt freshman Nicole Thate finishing twelfth and freshman Megan Fox rounding out the pack in 17th. Missouri State finished second as a team.
The full squad got together for the first time on Sept. 17 at the Southern Illinois Edwardsville Challenge. In this meet, the Bears emerged as the top team on the field, dominating the competition. Beaver, Nichols, freshman Monica Smith, freshman Lisa Imgrund and sophomore Ashton Stubbs finished first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. MSU placed seven runners in the top ten of the meet.
Next up for the Bears was their home meet, the Richard Clark Invitational on Oct. 2. This was the only home event for MSU and one of the most competitive fields on the season. Texas Tech, one of the top teams in the Midwest won the team title and all-American Ari Fisher of Toledo was the individual champion. For the Bears, Beaver led the way with a ninth-place finish. Nichols and Phillips finished 13th and 21st, respectively. Sophomore Stubbs and Thate rounded out the scoring team, finishing 33rd and 35th in the field of 74. MSU was fourth as a team in the meet.
"The Richard Clark Invitational was a great opportunity for our squad to experience national level competition on our home course," said Hipp. "It speaks volumes for both our program and our facility to be able to attract great competition to our home events."
To finish the regular season, the Bears travelled to the highly prestigious Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark. on Oct. 16. The field for the event was huge, with 56 teams competing and 469 individuals in the college race. Though the field was crowded, Nichols shone through, turning in a time of 17:20.71 in the 5K. She finished 13th overall, but moved into second all-time in Missouri State history. Beaver finished 46th, Phillips finished 50th, Imgrund finished 146th and Sutor finished at 161st to round out the scoring team.
Missouri State went to Wichita, Kan. for the 2010 MVC Championship on Oct. 30. Though Phillips was the defending champion, the Bears finished fifth in last year's meet and the trio of Phillips, Beaver and Nichols looked to return to prominence. When the dust settled at the end of the 5K race, both Nichols (third) and Phillips (eighth) finished in the top ten of the race. Beaver came in at 16th, Thate finished 27th and Imgrund was the final MSU scorer in 28th place. As a team, the Bears finished third of the ten teams in the conference.
"While we had some higher goals for the MVC meet this young squad took a step in the right direction," said Hipp, "With so many talented ladies returning next fall we are excited about what is in store for us at the next Valley championship."
In the final meet of the season, the Bears went to Peoria, Ill. to take part in the NCAA Midwest Regional for Cross Country. Because of the team's youth, only Beaver and Phillips had experience in the 6K distance. However, the inexperience would not slow the Bears in route to a 14th-place finish.
Nichols capped off her impressive freshman campaign with yet another mark in the history books. Her time of 20:48.31 in the 6K race is the third-fastest time in MSU history. Phillips also ran well, coming in with a new personal-best time of 21:13.67, the fifth-fastest time in school history. Not to be outdone, Beaver also cracked the all-time top ten with her time of 21:36.84.
Because of their strong finishes at the conference meet, Nichols and Phillips were both named all-MVC honorees. Nichols was also awarded all-Midwest Region status after the Midwest Regional in Peoria. She is the fifth runner to earn such accolades under coach Hipp.
"It is exciting for our runners to be honored by the MVC and the NCAA," said Hipp, "I hope that these great individual accolades will inspire the rest of our team to rise to the level we must reach in order to have the team success we are seeking."
The 2010 Bears rewrote the record books with Beaver, Nichols and Phillips putting up very impressive times. At the Chili Pepper Festival, Nichols leapt into second all-time in the 5K and Beaver made it to 17th all-time. At the Midwest Regional 6K race, Nichols made it into third all-time, Phillips improved her time while moving into fifth all-time and Beaver finished ninth all-time.