After one of the program’s best meets in recent memory in its final regular-season meet, the anticipation is high as the Valparaiso University cross country team gets set to partake in the Missouri Valley Conference Championships this week.
Indiana State is poised to host the event at LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, the centerpiece of the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind.
“Going into championship week is always an exciting moment for a team,” Interim Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Vincent Walker said. “It’s an accumulation of all the hard work that we’ve put in all summer. It’s fun to test ourselves and see where we’re at against the rest of the conference. With three additions to the league, it’s going to be fun to see where we stack up in the larger field.”
The aforementioned Bradley Pink Classic on Oct. 14 saw four Beacons crack the program record book and nearly the entire roster establish new personal bests.
“That was a really good tune-up to get us ready for the conference championship,” Walker said. “All season long, I’ve been telling our athletes that they have really big races in them. I think Bradley was that breakthrough performance for the whole team that we had been waiting for. After that meet, it seemed like we were a completely different team. Everyone saw that hard work paying off and saw themselves elevating to the next level. It’s exciting that our confidence is high as we enter the conference championships.”
Grace Aurand (Highland, Ind. / Highland) is at the forefront of the runners to watch for Valpo on the women’s side after her 6K time of 22:28.6 at Bradley cracked the program’s all-time top 10 (sixth). That time represented the program’s fastest 6K since Liz Bloy at the 2014 Horizon League Championships.
Kaitlynn Leady (Chesterton, Ind. / Chesterton), Ellie Roeglin (Delafield, Wis. / Lake County Lutheran) and freshman Alina Worzella (Martinsville, Ind. / Martinsville) also achieved personal bests at Bradley.
“That was really exciting for Grace after a rocky start at the beginning of the season,” Walker said. “There’s a lot more in the tank for her. When I initially talked to Kaitlynn and Ellie about what some of their goals could be for this fall, they both thought I was crazy at first. They put in the work all summer long and they’ve been silent grinders throughout the season. Bradley was a big breakout performance for both of them. For Alina, it can be hard to jump in with experienced veterans when you’re the only freshman on the women’s team. She’s been training with them and been right on their heels, so I’m very proud.”
Ignacio Veloz Bonilla (San Juan, P.R. / American Military Academy) finished with Valpo’s second-fastest 8K in program history at Bradley with a time of 24:39.1. Simeon Ehm (Castle Rock, Colo. / Heritage) followed closely at 24:48.3, a mark that ranks third in program history. Also cracking the program’s all-time top 10 in that race was Evan Walda (Fort Wayne, Ind. / South Side), whose time of 25:00.2 ranks seventh in program lore.
“Ignacio built on his success from the Puerto Rico National Championships in the spring,” Walker said. “He had really big goals going into the season, and thought he had a shot at all-conference. He’s put himself in that position. For a long time, he saw himself as more of a track guy, and now he’s starting to break out on the course. It’s been fun to watch his growth. Evan and Simeon have been going back and forth as our No. 1 and No. 2 all season. Those guys put in the mileage this summer. They knew at the end of the spring that they wanted to be very competitive, and they asked what they could do. They followed the plan to a tee.”
Senior Eric Carothers (Fishers, Ind. / Hamilton Southeastern) earned All-MVC honors in cross country during the Spring 2021 season while winning the MVC Elite 17 Award. He has hopes of adding to his awards stand this weekend. Junior Sean Curran (Plainfield, Ill. / Plainfield North) and senior Cameron Sheehy (DeMotte, Ind. / Kankakee Valley) have also made solid strides for the Valpo men.
“I’m really excited to see Eric back in the mix after he was banged up with a hip injury last spring,” Walker said. “He overcame a lot to get back to the consistency that he showed in the past. We’re still waiting for that big breakthrough performance from him, and we think we have a chance for that to be this week. It’s been fun to see some of our guys like Sean and Cam step up. Those were guys we were counting on to help us out in the fifth, sixth and seventh roles. For them to step up and contribute to the team’s success has been great to see so far this season.”
The Beacons will look to exceed expectations at this weekend’s championships as the men were projected to finish tied for seventh of 11 and the women were picked 11th of 12 in the pre-championship poll. The Valpo men finished ahead of five MVC foes at the Bradley Pink Classic. Three of those teams finished ahead of Valpo at last season’s championship, and the other two are newcomers to the conference.
Both races on Friday will air on ESPN+ with the women’s 6K slated for 8 a.m. Central Time and the men’s 8K scheduled for 9 a.m. CT. Links to live results and video are available on ValpoAthletics.com.