It was a history making day this past Saturday for Emmanuel's cross country program. On a foggy and cool morning, the Lions showed their dominance with a strong showing in the final two miles to win the 2012 Southern States Athletic Conference Championship, in only the program's second year of competition. The Lions also garnered several other SSAC accolades.
"Our guys are special. Lee was pretty aggressive early on, but ultimately, our team showed they're pretty deep and pretty talented," praised Coach Larios. "And they put in a ton of work, since early summer, to be consistent and confident, and Christ-centered. This championship means so much to our team. We're proud to represent Emmanuel on the championship podium. This conference is big and rather competitive and it's getting stronger each semester. It's exciting to be able to represent the SSAC at the NAIA Nationals."
The Lions were once again led by freshman sensation, D'Andre Smalley. Smalley finished 2nd overall in the championship 8k race to lead six other Lions to the All-Conference team. Smalley ran a solid 25:50; finishing close behind were teammates Leonel Ayala and Jonah Holbert. Ayala clocked in an impressive 26:16, good enough for 3rd place overall and one second ahead of Holbert's 4th place finish (26:17). Emmanuel dominated by placing six runners in the top-10. Mitchael Jenkins' 26:42 performance was good enough for 6th overall, while teammates Tucker Hilley (26:42) and Rashaun Tanner (26:55) rounded out 9th and 10th place, respectively.
"This was the first time all season we had our fifth runner inside sixty seconds from our number one runner," added Coach Larios, "which really shows how much of a team effort this was for us. Each guy gutted out a painful race for a decisive team victory. We believe this may be the second SSAC championship in the history of Emmanuel athletics… which makes this win even more special for our guys!"
Emmanuel (#26 NAIA) earned the right to compete at this year's NAIA National Cross Country Championship in Vancouver, WA. The championship festivities are scheduled for November 15-17th.
The Lions not only brought home the championship trophy, they also racked up a number of other SSAC accolades.
The men and women's team were selected as the 2012 SSAC Champions of Character award winners; this award is presented to the team which best exemplifies the five core values of the NAIA's Champions of Character initiative. The honor is voted on by the head coaches of the SSAC teams.
"When both men and women were honored with this award," shared Larios, "it was really humbling and touching. I know how special these students are, but to know that their character is noticed by other teams makes it mean so much more. We were told that it was nearly a unanimous vote among all coaches… that's humbling and honoring."
The Lions also had six men named to the SSAC All-Conference Team. Those earning this distinction by placing in the top-12 spots at this year's championship were D'Andre Smalley (Fr.), Leonel Ayala (So.), Jonah Holbert (So.), Mitchael Jenkins (Fr.), Tucker Hilley (So.), and Rashaun Tanner (So.)
Coach Jose Larios was again honored with the SSAC Coach of the Year Award, his 11th NAIA Region/Conference coaching award. Earning another individual award was sophomore Tucker Hilley. Hilley was selected as this year's SSAC Newcomer of the Year. This award is given to the top transfer student in the SSAC each year. Sophomore Carson Massey also was recognized for being selected as Emmanuel's representative on the Musco Lighting Champions of Character Team.
Emmanuel's men also garnered six spots, the most of any men's SSAC teams, on the SSAC All-Academic Team. Those men, having earned at least a 3.25 in the last two semesters at Emmanuel, were Christopher Bailey (So.), Andrew Murphy (So.), Eddie Burden (So.), Jonah Holbert (So.), Ryan Rosbury (So.), and Phillip Stewart (So.)
Men's 8K SSAC Championships top-25 individual results