Friday, August 25, 2017

TCC's Nennstiel and Point's Guadiana star in the Cougar Cross-Country Challenge college 5K

The college session of the Cougar Challenge was a small cross-country meet. Only three schools were represented at Phipps Park on Friday afternoon, Aug. 25. Point University dominated; the West Point, Georgia school won both the men’s and the women’s team competition. The Florida schools, Tallahassee Community College and Florida State College Jacksonville, may have come up short against the Point Skyhawks, but the meet was historically significant beyond wins and losses. For FSCJ, it was a return to women’s cross-country, a sport in which the school had once won national championships. For the state as a whole, it marked the return of junior college men’s cross-country to Florida, when TCC fielded the Eagles’ first-ever men’s squad.

2017 Point University men's cross-country team
Point University men's cross-country team

Cross-country in Florida’s community colleges goes back to at least the 1960s, when the schools were called “junior colleges.” Pensacola, Okaloosa-Walton, Lake City, Miami Dade, Saint Petersburg, Indian River, Seminole, and Brevard not only fielded men’s teams, but sent squads to the NJCAA national championship meet. Hillsborough, Brevard, and Florida Community College at Jacksonville sent women's teams to nationals, and the FCCJ women won the NJCAA national championship title not once but twice, first in 1982 and again in 1983.

But Florida community colleges began dropping cross-country in the 1980s, and the sport all but disappeared in the state. Just four years ago, only Chipola College and Pasco-Hernando State College had women’s programs. Men’s cross-country at the junior college level was extinct in Florida.

2017 Point University women's cross-country team
Point University women's cross-country team

A revival is under way, though. South Florida State College added women’s cross-country in 2015. TCC added their own women’s program in 2016, making four programs--enough for a NJCAA women’s state championship to be contested last year in Tallahassee. At Phipps Park on Friday, the FSCJ women and the TCC men joined the resurgence, and other Florida community colleges have announced plans to add cross-country in the future.

That future looked bright for the TCC Eagles men on Friday afternoon, especially for first-year Eagle Gatlin Nennstiel, who won the race.

Gatlin Nennstiel
Gatlin Nennstiel

“For the first, at least, mile we had one TCC runner who went out hard, but he burned out,” said Nennstiel after the race. “I took charge after that.”

He did. Nennstiel led unchallenged for the last three kilometers of the five-kilometer cross-country race, posting a winning time of 18:27. Point University frosh Donquarius Chappell took second in 19:04, with Point senior Rafa Hewitt third in 19:10. TCC's Travis Parks took fourth in 19:21, but Point runners took the next three places, giving the Skyhawks 23 points and the team title. The Eagle men were second-best with 34 points.

2017 Cougar Cross-Country Challenge
The early leaders

Nennstiel had run cross-country at Aucilla Christian Academy in Monticello, Florida during the last four years. After that, he decided to continue his studies as well as his running at Tallahassee Community College.

“My brother was going to FSU and my church is in Tallahassee,” said Nennstiel, who plans to go to Florida State himself after getting his associate’s degree. “I’m rooming with my brother, my cousin, and my best friend from high school.”

Rebecca Guadiana
Rebecca Guadiana
At TCC, Nennstiel is still a short drive from home in Monticello. Point’s Becky Guadiana goes to school a bit farther from her home in Ventura, California where she ran cross-country at Ventura High. The Point coach talked her into coming east, though.

“He recruited me,” said Guadiana. “I thought it would be fun to go to school in Georgia.”

Guadiana certainly had fun on the course at Phipps Park. For the first two kilometers of the five-kilometer race, TCC's Meagan Giddens set the pace for the women, with Point's Guadiana and FSCJ's Michaela Scurti close behind. After that, though, the second half of the race belonged to Guadiana, who went on to win in 22:47. Giddens took second for the Eagles in 23:13, and first-year Eagle Olnick Duverge was third in 26:21. Point, however, had all five scorers in the top eight to give the Skyhawks 25 points and the win. TCC was second with 45 points, and FSCJ was third with 60.

Meagan Giddens
Meagan Giddens

Guadiana is looking forward to more success later this season. “Hopefully, I’ll qualify to go to nationals. It’s my senior year and I’ve gone the first three years. I’d like to make it four.”

After Guadiana’s race at Phipps Park, you’d have to be optimistic about her chances for another trip to the NAIA meet.

Top Ten College Men, 2017 Cougar Cross-Country Challenge
  1. 18:26.93, Gatlin Nennstiel (Tallahassee Community College) FR
  2. 19:03.83, Donquarius Chappell (Point University) FR
  3. 19:10.00, Rafa Hewitt (Point University) SR
  4. 19:20.76, Travis Parks (Tallahassee Community College) FR
  5. 19:21.97, Tyler Agan (Point University) JR
  6. 19:52.05, Nico Seaton (Point University) FR
  7. 20:00.71, Brayton Gineris (Point University) SR
  8. 21:31.31, Joshua Guest (Tallahassee Community College) FR
  9. 22:09.97, Drew Duram (Point University) SO
  10. 22:20.58, Akintunde Azikwe (Tallahassee Community College) FR

Top Ten College Men, 2017 Cougar Cross-Country Challenge
  1. 22:46.14, Becky Guadiana (Point University) SR
  2. 23:12.56, Meagan Giddens (Tallahassee Community College) SO
  3. 26:20.75, Olnick Duverge (Tallahassee Community College) SO
  4. 26:41.72, Abby Contreras (Point University) SR
  5. 27:13.18, Ashley Kaeser (Point University) SO
  6. 27:56.23, Michaela Scurti (Florida State College Jacksonville) SO
  7. 28:30.75, Amanda Dalton (Point University) SO
  8. 28:30.93, Shelby Garritson (Point University) SR
  9. 29:57.20, Nicole Maza (Florida State College Jacksonville) SO
  10. 30:27.15, Celly Ruiz (Point University) SR


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