In the latest installment of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Cross Country Top 25 poll, the men of Southern Oregon were the unanimous selection for the No.1 spot. This is the fifth straight week in which Southern Oregon has been voted No.1; the Raiders received all 20 first-place votes, and totaled 560 points overall. Lewis-Clark State, which is located in Idaho, was a close second with 537 points, followed by Indiana Wesleyan (3rd), Olivet Nazarene (4th), and St. Francis (5th).
The men’s team has been lead by stellar performances from Jared Hixon, Ray Schireman, Connor Cushman and Zach Boyd-Helm. Hixon has been the dominating force on a very talented roster, currently recording the second fastest 8k time in the nation. Hixon’s brightest moment of the season came when he posted a personal best of 24:19.7 at the Stanford Invitational; he placed seventeenth among a field of 283 runners, all primarily National Collegiate Athletic Association competitors. That performance earned him NAIA Men’s Runner of the Week, a first for Hixon. This season, Hixon has twice been named the men’s Cascade Conference runner of the week.
Grier Gatlin, head coach of the men and women’s cross country team, noted Hixon’s exceptional season when asked about the men’s chances heading into postseason racing, “We really need to work on our depth, we’re getting better … But I think Jared will really stand out for us.”
Hixon attributes a remarkable summer of training to his success: “I trained all summer in the desert heat of my hometown [Palmdale, CA.] and came out fitter than I have ever been … I feel as though we finally got it right.” Hixon was also quick to compliment his team.
“The season so far has been progressive with increasing momentum … Though younger, the same prowess of being a Raider lives in these guys … Everyday I step out for a run with these guys, I see in their faces what I felt that first 15 mile long run my freshman year, ‘What other trails are there?’ Run hungry. That adds up to a podium finish in my book.”
The most recent race saw the Southern Oregon Men place 4th at the San Francisco State Invitational. The team was led by Schireman (15th place, 25:16.7), Cushman (18th place, 25:21.0), and Hixon (22nd place 25:28.6) The top eight finishers for SOU were separated by a mere 80 seconds. But things aren’t just going well on the men’s side as the women’s team has also had a fine season thus far.
Standout runner Jessa Perkinson, who recently completed the course 4th overall at the SF State Invitational, led the No.15 SOU women to an 8th place finish at the meet. Perkinson has also placed well in other races this season coming across the line 3rd at the CCC Preview Meet and 53rd at the Stanford Invitational. When asked about her and the team’s season, Perkinson stated, “I feel really good about the season so far. All of the girls are really kind and talented. I’m excited to watch our team progress.”
Perkinson also says that her squad is looking ahead to the championship part of the year: “We’re ready to do really well in the postseason. Our entire team has positive attitudes and confidence about going to Nationals, so we just gotta make that happen and do our absolute best when we get there.”
In 2010, SOU won the men’s national championship as well as the combined team competition. In the last five seasons, they have consistently placed in the top five, but are ready to reach the pinnacle again. That pursuit continues for the Raiders at the Lewis and Clark Invitational on October 17th and will hopefully end in Charlotte, North Carolina next month for the national championship.