Ricks College runners race to national titles

REXBURG, Idaho — After having won 10 national titles, dating back to 1965, the Ricks College men's and women's cross country teams both won the National Junior College Athletic Association's championship at the same meet — a feat that had not been accomplished since 1976.

For the women, the title is the fifth consecutive, an NJCAA record. For the men, this is the first time since 1986. In addition, Doug Stutz, who coaches both teams, was named NJCAA Coach of the Year for both programs. He has coached cross country at Ricks for 12 years and also works for the Division of Continuing Education.

Coach Stutz said of his teams: "They are coachable and willing to work. They have a commitment to keep team rules and school standards. Ricks is the type of college that attracts good people who are coachable, teachable, willing to learn and willing to work."

He added, "[Ricks] Pres. [David] Bednar told us if we would keep high standards, we'd be able to run beyond our natural ability."

In speaking of the Ricks men's team victory, opposing Coach James Morris of South Plains College of Texas said, "It is the finest team performance that I've seen at nationals in 19 years."

The five Ricks runners crossed the finish line within 22 seconds of each other. "Our men determined before the season began that we were going to do something special together," Coach Stutz continued. "They set their goals high. They believed in themselves and had confidence in the Lord, in their coach and in each other. They did the small things consistently, day in and day out, that would qualify them to run very well."

In speaking of the women's team, wherein five Ricks runners crossed the line within 58 seconds of each other, Coach Stutz said: "Unlike football, where one loss can ruin any hopes of winning a national championship, cross country honors are gained by how you do for a few minutes of running on one day at the end of the season. At our home meet in October, our women ran poorly and finished a distant third to Weber State's frosh team and Utah Valley.

"Yet at the region championships and again at the national championships our women ran much better. Everything we do in training and preparation during the season is to enable us to run our best at the national meet. As a team that's just what we did."

The Ricks College men's team, with 53 points, defeated South Plains (85), Butler County of Kansas (100), College of Southern Idaho (102) and Central Arizona (113). (In cross country, the lower score wins.) The team was led by Mike Thatcher of LaCanada, Calif., who finished sixth overall; he was followed by Jason Brown (seventh) of Layton, Utah; Ashley Smith (11th) of Blackfoot, Idaho; Dustin Trail (14th) of Granby, Colo.; and Ben Wynn (15th) of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Also on the men's team are Andy Robinson of Parma, Idaho, and Josh Hart of Idaho Falls, Idaho.

The Ricks women's team won with 61 points, followed by the College of Southern Idaho with 81, Utah Valley State College (85), Central Arizona (124) and Yavapai College of Arizona (125). Leading the way were Kristen Ogden (fifth) of Chico, Calif.; Amber Cellan (seventh) of Soda Springs, Idaho; Courtney Allen (14th) of Redmond, Ore.; Lena Walker (17th) of Cambridge, Idaho; and AnnMarie Adams (18th) of Spokane, Wash. Other members of the team are Cherie Stevens of Orem, Utah, and Holly Campbell of West Jordan, Utah.

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