BY JOHN DUBOIS
For the second consecutive year the Danville Area Community College Lady Jaguars cross country team has qualified for the NJCAA Division I national meet.
Colton Shaw and Austin Dart also qualified as individual runners from the men’s team.
The national meet will be held Saturday at Rend Lake, and the three-hour ride to a familiar location is quite a departure from last season when the meet was held 18 hours away in Hobbs, N.M.
“This is a much easier trip and it won’t be as hard on everyone as it was last year,’’ DACC coach Kyle O’Brien said. “We are familiar with Rend Lake and the course should be in even better shape for the national meet. We had some of our best runs at the Region 24 meet and in this race we should be able to do even better.’’
The Lady Jaguars were ranked 16th in the final NJCAA Division I poll and are led by All-Region 24 runners Lisa Ponder, Jenifer Luna, and Alicia Hightower.
A freshman from Tuscola, Ponder was a well regarded distance runner in high school who won the Region 24 meet with a time of 19 minutes and 36 seconds.
“Lisa has been consistent all season and has been a great athlete who has been able to build on what she did in high school,’’ O’Brien said. “She got used to the different kind of training you have to do in college and she has been coming on strong lately and has begun to peak at the right time.’’
Luna is also a freshman returned to running during her senior season in high school.
“Jennifer came up huge for us at the region meet,’’ O’Brien said. “She didn’t run for two years in high school and is only beginning to scratch the surface of what she can do.’’
O’Brien pointed out that former Oakwood runner Ciarra Pierce had been one of the Jaguars top runners, but she has been unable to run because of an injury.
That made their victory at the Region 24 meet a true team efford.
“Every place counted for us as we won by only 4 points,’’ O’Brien said. “Jennifer made a big move and took over a minute off her times from earlier this year.’’
Irma Bautista is the lone sophomore for the Lady Jaguars and Autumn Shippy has worked her way back from an ankle injury.
“Irma has taken on a leadership captain type role for us,’’ O’Brien said. “She is great to work with and has helped the other girls with adjusting to running in college.
“Autumn has gotten her times down to 22 minutes from 24-25 minutes early in the season. She has shown a lot of progression in the last 12 weeks and that is one of the most rewarding parts of being a coach.’’
With four freshman runners, O’Brien believes this will be a great experience for his team.
Shaw and Dart also earned All-Region 24 honors.
“Colton came into the season as a freshman with really big hopes, but didn’t start the year in the best of shape,’’ O’Brien said. “He has gotten consistently better as the year has gone on and has been a true workhorse for us. He took a big chance at the region meet and it almost paid off with a win for him.
“Austin is a sophomore who has taken on a captain’s responsibility. He was always very encouraging to the other runners and he has been coming on strong to the point that he ran the best race of his career at the Region 24 meet.’’
The women’s race will begin at 10 a.m. and the men’s race will follow at 11.