PEORIA — Slip on those running, err, dancing shoes.
Bradley received an automatic bid to the NCAA men's cross cross country championship with a NCAA Midwest Regional runner-up finish on Friday at Newman Golf Course. This is the first time in program history the Braves will run in the NCAA championships hosted next Saturday by the University of Wisconsin.
Iowa State won the team title with 38 points, while Bradley edged Tulsa 102-107 for second place. The Braves are the first Missouri Valley Conference team to make the NCAAs since Illinois State’s 2000 appearance.
A huge crowd of Bradley team members and supporters celebrated just north of the finish line when the team standings appeared on the video board. The Braves were ranked a program-best No. 4 in the Midwest Region poll compiled by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association coming into the meet.
“This was the plan,” Bradley coach Darren Gauson said when asked if this is what he envisioned when he took over the program four seasons ago. “We were working towards this for a number of years. … We probably weren’t perfect today, but we were perfect in our mentality and our grittiness and our determination and our desire to get the job done.
“Second is just a dream come true for us. Just now kicking that door and getting through it, feels really good to do that, especially with this group.”
Four Braves runners earned all-Region honors, paced by a 12th-place finish from Luke Hoffert. The junior covered the 10K course in 31:14.7.
"We were going to go out and give it the best we could today," Hoffert said. "Our ultimate goal was to see what we could do. We knew we had a pretty good chance of making something happen today.
“We ended up doing it and we’re just so pumped right now.”
Hoffert credited a large home crowd, including several alumni, for some much-needed adrenaline at key points throughout the race.
"Just being in our normal setting ... just to be around basically our friends and family, especially during these races it gives so much motivation," he said.
Senior Haran Dunderdale was 16th in 31:18.8 and junior Jake Hoffert finished 18th in 31:21.2. Senior Michael Ward, the men's program's first NCAA qualifier two years ago, came in 23rd at 31:27.9.
His pre-race pep talk focused on seeing the desired results following a season of hard work.
“I said to the guys today before the race, ‘Each individual knows what we want today,’ ” the South Wales native said. " 'We know what we want as a team. … It’s still there; all we need to do is go grab it.’
“If it wasn’t for the home course advantage and that crowd today, I could have easily been 40th place.”
Junior William Anderson completed the BU scoring with a 33rd-place in 31:46.7.
Edwin Kurgat of Iowa State was the men's individual winner, clocking in at 30:41.6 — just 0.9 seconds ahead of runner-up Isai Rodriguez from Oklahoma State (30:42.5).
In the women's 6-kilometer race, Gabby Juarez was the lone all-Region Bradley runner with a 15th-place finish. Her time of 20:58.1 was ahead of freshman Tyler Schwartz (55th, 21:27.6) and Niamh Markham (56th, 21:37.9).
Former Dunlap runners Ayah Aldadah (61st, 21:40.5) and Abby Jockisch (64th, 21:43.3) rounded out the Braves scorers.
Juarez reiterated the home course advantage sentiment.
“I think it’s a huge advantage, since we’ve raced in similar conditions earlier in the semester,” she said, “so we know where all the muddy parts are, where all the sharp turns are, where we need to pick it up going up and down the hills.”
Bradley took ninth in the team standings with 236 points, three behind Tulsa (233).
Cailie Logue won the race in 20:13.5, helping Iowa State sweep the team titles. The Cyclones scored 78 points to distance themselves from runner-up Oklahoma State (140 points).
Adam Duvall can be reached at 686-3214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.