Zach Barnes, Lansing State Journal
Two years, two national championships for the Lansing Community College women's cross country team.
The Stars won their second consecutive National Junior College Athletic Association Division 1 crown on Saturday at Prairie Trails Golf Course in El Dorado, Kansas. LCC had five runners finish among the top 35 and finished with 103 points, three points ahead of Central Arizona and El Paso CC.
LCC won despite being Division 2 and competing against much bigger schools. But in NJCAA cross country, the two divisions race together for the national championship. But the win doesn't come as much of a surprise, considering the history and culture of the LCC cross country program.
"We've had a long-standing tradition," LCC coach James Robinson said. "Back before Division 1 and Division 2 competed together, we were fairly regularly champions in division two.
"A long way back, before my time, LCC had a good rep for distance runners. My predecessor really raised the level of our program. So I inherited a program that's pretty well known and I tried to build on that."
A winning culture is necessary when the team relies primarily on local talent – DeWitt, Carson City and Ithaca are all represented among the top seven runners. Robinson says although it's a junior college, with the right mindset you can still breed success, no matter any recruiting boundaries.
And it's that outlook that brings respect from his runners.
"When my coach tells me to do something I do it. I just don't question it," said DeWitt's Casey Mossholder, who led the Stars at nationals, finishing 11th overall in 18 minutes, 22.22 seconds. "I trust he's going to tell me what I'm going to need to do to get me better because he knows a lot more than I do. Coach cares about his runners unlike anyone else."
"He made me love this sport," said captain Madison Slater, also from DeWitt, who finished 29th on Saturday. "He knows we can accomplish so much. Even if you didn't have a good practice he still encourages us."
Robinson said both Mossholder and Slater developed into elite runners despite neither having much experience. Mossholder was at Army Advanced Individual Training and expressed interest in running to Robinson and he gave her the workout schedule to complete while at training. Meanwhile, Slater was seeking to run track but Robinson saw great distance running potential in her.
Establishing culture and leadership isn't an easy task when runners are only there for two years at a time. Even building team chemistry can pose a challenge.
"If we miss on one year, we have one group of sophomores that for whatever reason don't pass on the culture and goals we have then you have to start from ground zero," Robinson said.
Slater isn't exactly sure how the team got so close, but she recognizes the positivity and encouragement from all the girls helped them win the championship.
"Our team is so strong and full of encouragement," Slater said. "I wanted to put it in the girls mind that no matter what we do we're still a good team."
"Every single girl on the team had the motivation and the ability to go to practice every day and give it 100 percent," Mossholder said. "Each second mattered for winning the trophy. So everyone had to have their heart into it."