SIOUX CITY – There was no anxiety for the Morningside women’s cross country team this season.
The Mustangs captured their first-ever Great Plains Athletic Conference cross country championship and with it, an automatic berth to the NAIA National Championships.
Morningside, making its second straight national appearance on the women’s side and fifth overall, didn’t have to sit and wait for a possible at-large berth for the NAIA Nationals, which will be held Saturday at North Farm Cross Country Course in Elsah, Illinois.
“We never want to take it for granted, it’s always been at the hand, other than the two times, at the hand of waiting for an at-large berth,” said Morningside Coach Dave Nash. “We knew going in after that (GPAC) meet that we didn’t have to wait for that, that we could make plans right away that we didn’t have to wait for that.”
Morningside, Dordt and Hastings give the GPAC three women's teams in the NAIA National Meet for the second straight season. It's Dordt's fifth straight national appearance.
The 20th-ranked Mustangs have four runners back from last year’s squad that placed 25th. Dordt, which saw its four-year run as GPAC champs end, also has four runners back from last year.
“It’s going to be a tough field and it’s going to be a blast,” said Nash. “We have more depth, we’re healthier this year. We finished 25th last year and that was a disappointment for us, we want to improve on that greatly.
“We have been ranked as high as 16th and as low as 21st. We feel like we were a top 20 team at least and were hoping that things go our way.”
The Mustangs boost a strong front two in senior Tiffany Shepherd and junior Michelle Mumm. Mumm from Tri-Center High School, and Shepherd (Corning, Iowa), both returning qualifiers, finished second and third, respectively, in the GPAC meet to aid the team championship.
Morgan Applegarth, a sophomore from Lincoln East, and Payton Boer, a sophomore from Sioux Center also have national meet experience. Rounding out the seven-member unit are freshmen Natalie Lambert (Prairie Valley) and Alex George (Seward, Neb.) along with sophomore Cassie Warner (Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson).
Nineteenth-ranked Dordt has posted four straight top-10 national meet finishes and lost the GPAC title by just three points to Morningside. Erika Douma, a junior from Western Christian, is making her third national meet appearance.
Justine Van Zee, a senior from Sioux Falls Christian, is also a three-time qualifier. Dordt's two-time qualifiers include senior Kelsey Lewis and junior Audrey Brooks.
Making their first national meet trip for the Defenders are Annechiena Knevelbaard, Julia Bos and Erin Bandstra.
Northwestern junior Katie Bosch (Ankeny) ran fourth at the GPAC meet and will be making her national meet debut.