Pictured above: Tim Testa, head cross country coach, gets on the bus to head to the NAIA National Championships. (Chris Campbell/ Staff Reporter)

By Chris Campbell

Staff reporter

1,795 miles. This is the road less traveled for Moundbuilder cross country as they embark on their final curtain call of the 2017 campaign at the NAIA National Championships in Vancouver, Wash. Saturday, Nov. 18.

Away from the friendly confines of the Walnut Valley lies a journey westward full of hills, mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, and of course the unknown. No difficult journey ever consists of a straight, uniform path. The path to greatness requires detours, roadblocks, and difficult, uncharted terrain to overcome. However, these Builders have stood the test of time and now find themselves at the pinnacle of a runner’s world.

Tim Testa, head cross country coach, is in his second year under the helm and is optimistic about the significance of this opportunity. “I am very excited for the team to get the chance to run at nationals,” said Testa. “These kids have worked very hard and they deserve to represent SC and the Winfield community.”

Testa will provide direction for the entire women’s cross country program, as well as Jersey Boydstun, sports management senior, who is the lone representative for the men on the trek to the Pacific Northwest.

Boydstun is coming off a ninth place finish at the KCAC Championships on Nov. 4. A trip to nationals however, is not uncharted territory for the native of Overland Park, who competed in the event last year in Elsah, Illinois finishing with a 26:58 mark in the thrilling 8K race.

“Last time was pretty cool, I’ve run in some pretty big fields before, but it was very tough to get in the position you want in the beginning since there are so many people fighting for each step,” said Boydstun. “Even with tired legs I ran decent, but not what I wanted. This time I won’t be as nervous and I’ll know what to expect from other runners.”

Boydstun competed among 331 of the nation’s top runners on that trip, motivating him to set expectations to a much higher level this time around.

“Almost everyone at this meet is an experienced and talented runner so it’s hard to gage what they are going to do,” said Boydstun. “The best thing for me is to focus on what I need to do to achieve my goals, which in this case is to see how close I can get to a top 100 finish or better depending on the day.”

In retrospect, Boydstun is quick to admit his appreciation for Testa and all he has done to make his running career not just admirable, but even more so enjoyable at Southwestern.

“I’d like to shout out my team, and also Coach T for making my last year a great one,” said Boydstun. “Without them I wouldn’t have been able to get the miles or the workouts done.”

Testa spoke of Boydstun’s contributions to the Moundbuilder program over the course of his collegiate career.

“Jersey is a special kid who has grown so much over the past year. I am lucky to have a guy like him in the program and he is lucky to have teammates like he does, who help and support him each day at practice and races,” said Testa. “Jersey was happy to qualify, but really wanted to be at the meet with his whole team. He cares for those guys and knows that the future is bright for SCXC.”

As for the Lady Builders, they have the distinct opportunity to travel as an entire unit after their exhilarating second-place finish at the KCAC Championships nearly two weeks ago in Lindsborg.

Justine Vogele, junior, led the pack with a second place finish and Kari Blattner, junior, followed her to the finish line, placing third. Five Lady Builders placed in the top 20 that day, good for 50 points, a second place finish, and an eventual automatic berth to Nationals in Vancouver.

“We are very excited to be going as a whole team. It is a great experience. Last year Ashley Smith and I went as individuals and it was a lot of fun, but I know the experience will be more fun with a whole team,” said Vogele.

One must note that Vogele has quite an impressive resume when it comes to qualifying for the big dance. She will undoubtedly be looked upon as the catalyst in igniting the Lady Builder effort on Saturday morning.

“My first nationals trip in 2015 was an overwhelming experience. With 300-plus girls in the race, I had no idea where I was going to place,” said Vogele. “As a sophomore, I already knew how overwhelming it could be so I was more prepared and was able to place 136 out of over 300. This year, I know I am prepared and hope to place much better than I have in the past two years.”

With impressive marks consisting of multiple sub 20-minute finishes this fall, Vogele is poised to make this her best appearance on the national scene, but she humbly insists on emphasizing the importance of competing and preparing from a team standpoint.

“I have had a great junior year season. I have made some great improvements and we have built up a great team this year that will be even better next year,” said Vogele. “There will be a lot of good competition. We haven’t gotten to compete against many teams that will be there, other than Saint Mary’s the conference champion team. We hope to beat them in this bigger field of athletes. We need to run next to a teammate and help pull each other through the race.”

For Testa, he emphasizes the privilege of this opportunity.

“I am looking forward to giving kids an experience they will remember. Not everyone gets to go on trips like this in their ‘regular lives,’ said Testa. “These kids have earned the honor and I am just happy to be a small part to take them to nationals.”

The reality of this event is apparent for all Moundbuilder cross country members in attendance. On Saturday morning, 1,795 miles away, some Builders’ careers will end, while others’ will just be beginning.

Chris Campbell is a junior majoring in communication. You may email him at Christopher.campbell@sckans.edu