Cross country teams sweep OVC Championships


Eastern Illinois University Athletics

Adam Swanson, a senior criminology major, holds up an OVC championship plaque after the Conference Championship Saturday afternoon, Oct. 29, 2022, at Putnam County Sports Complex in Cookeville, Tenn.

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

The Eastern men’s and women’s cross country teams swept the OVC Cross Country Championships in Cookeville, Tennessee last Saturday for the first time since 2001. 

Saturday’s championship wins marked the third straight OVC title for the men’s team and the third ever title for the women’s team.  

It was a close race for both the men’s and women’s teams as they won the title by two points and one point, respectively. 

The men scored 65 points in the 8K to take the title with UT Martin taking second place with 67 points. In third place was Southern Indiana with 82 points and fourth place belonged to host Tennessee Tech with 82 points.  

Freshman runner Mason Stoeger said the men thought they had lost the race at first because of the order in which some of the runners finished. However, the live results proved different. 

“Pretty much everyone there was checking the live results, so we had found out we won before they announced, and it was a surreal feeling,” Stoeger said. “A lot of guys were emotional because it was their last conference, and it would’ve been dreadful to walk out of the meet without a title. We walked in with confidence that we were going to win so when we found out we won, I think everyone was just relieved that the stress was lifted off.” 

Fifth year runner Dustin Hatfield was second in the race with a time of 24:47.6.

Fellow runner, senior Adam Swanson, was third with a time of 25:10.7. Their performances earned them first team All-OVC honors. 

Coach Erin Howarth said that Hatfield brings something to Eastern that she has never seen before. 

“I can’t really put into words what Dustin Hatfield has brought to the team, to the program, and to the university,” Howarth said. “Dustin is unlike any other athlete I have ever known; he is fierce and competitive beyond belief; he absolutely hates to lose. He doesn’t understand why someone would ever do anything in the competitive arena with anything less than 100% of their heart and guts.” 

Graduate student Andrew Pilat finished ninth in the race with a time of 25:36.2, earning second team All-OVC honors.  

Hatfield had another historic season to go along with his third-straight OVC title. At the Louisville Cross Country Classic, Hatfield broke his own 8K time record and finished eight seconds behind the winner in a field with over 300 runners.  

Hatfield’s performance this season earned him is second straight OVC Runner of the Year honor.  

Stoeger said that training alongside and running with Hatfield has been something all the runners have benefited from. 

“It’s pretty cool to train with Dustin day in and day out,” Stoeger said. “He’s one who has grown up working hard and he continued to work hard every single day with his running. He takes every workout seriously and is a smart racer. Watching Dustin do what he’s been doing has just been a fun ride.” 

Competing in the 6K distance race for the first time in championship history, the women scored 41 points, allowing them to walk away with a one-point victory over Southern Indiana.  

Tennessee Tech finished in third place with 71 points while Southeast Missouri finished in fourth with 91. 

Four Panther runners earned All-OVC honors with Kate Bushe and Mackenzie Aldrige earning first team honors. 

Sarah Carr and Katie Springer both earned second team honors. 

Bushe finished second in the 6K with a time of 21:54.8 and Aldrige was third with a time of 21:58.1. 

Howarth said that watching both teams had a sense of what it would take to get to the OVC Championships.  

“Each one of these women has improved immensely throughout the season. It has been one of my very favorite seasons in that sense,” Howarth said. “The men came in more as veterans in the top 5; the top 5 were all returners from last year’s championship team so they already knew what it took and just needed to work on our team dynamic and belief in each other. We have an older team in the top 5 and then a very young team thereafter. So, it was fantastic watching the younger runners learn and soak in all that they could from the older guys. They knew from day one that we had what it took to win, but we had to stay healthy, make progress on our fitness, and continue to work on packing it up.” 

The runners were not the only ones to receive honors as Howarth was named OVC Cross Country Coach of the Year for the fourth year in a row.  

Cross Country Coach Erin Howarth accepts OVC Cross Country Coach of the year award after the Conference Championship Saturday afternoon, Oct. 29, 2022, at Putnam County Sports Complex in Cookeville, Tenn. (Eastern Illinois University Athletics)

Stoeger said that the success of the men’s and women’s teams would not be possible without Howarth’s coaching. 

“I think the thing that makes both the women and the men successful is the training of coach Howarth,” Stoeger said. “Having the same coach for both men’s and women’s makes us all be on a similar training schedule. Having that overall consistency in training resulted in both teams being very fit heading into conference.” 

The men are ranked No. 13 in the USTFCCCA Midwest Regional Poll. Both the men and women will return to the track on Friday, Nov. 11 at the University of Missouri for the NCAA Midwest Regional. 

Autumn Schulz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]