Austin Ellis and Gillian Giffen saved the best of their cross country careers for last.
The Milligan College seniors each earned All-America honors last weekend at the NAIA Cross Country Championships in Vancouver, Wash. Ellis finished ninth individually, the best showing ever for a Milligan man, while Giffen was 15th overall in the women’s field.
The top 30 finishers on both sides were named All-America.
“Austin and Gillian both had rough 2010 seasons,” said Milligan coach Chris Layne. “For them to come back and perform like they did at nationals, it was just very emotional, very exciting. These are two kids who get the absolute most out of their bodies.
“What a great way to finish their careers.”
Ellis ran a 24:18 on a slow 8K course at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, shaving a whopping 35 seconds off his school record.
“The conditions were right weather-wise,” said Layne, “but the course was very challenging. It was a sloppy, muddy environment. With that kind of run, Austin really legitimized his talent. There’s not another kid around for miles who could match up with him.”
Giffen, meanwhile, ran 18:14 on the 5K course to lead the Lady Buffs to a 15th-place finish. That validated a rather unusual training regimen leading into the cross country season.
“She’s had a chronic shin issue ever since high school,” said Layne. “Every long run she was supposed to do this summer, we simulated it on a bike, just to try to keep her rested and as healthy as possible. She would go hard for up to two hours.
“It was a big risk, and until nationals Gillian had not been herself. It was great to see it all come together for her at the right time.”
Layne was also pleased with the team finish. The Lady Buffs, who had won their ninth straight Appalachian Athletic Conference championship, were seeded 25th in the Vancouver field.
“We didn’t crack the top 25 in the rankings until the fourth week of the season,” said Layne, “and that’s kind of where we stayed. We had a little bit of a chip on our shoulders.
“To go to nationals and finish 10 places higher than our ranking was a big victory for us.”
Following Giffen for the Lady Buffs were freshmen Christine McMahon and Cassie St. John of Jonesbourgh, in 91st and 96th place, respectively. Catie McMahon and Lauren Hubbard also counted in the team total.
The Milligan men didn’t qualify as a team but had four runners compete as individuals. Besides Ellis, Nathan Meeuwenberg was 48th with a personal best of 25:12, followed by Matt Murphy and Brendan Hawkins.
“We had perhaps the best men’s team we’ve ever had, and we should have had a team at nationals,” said Layne. “The four individuals we took had an amazing run. It was just a very rewarding trip all the way around.”
n The men’s basketball team still has one more exhibition mismatch to go before getting down to business in conference.
The Buffs play at Appalachian State on Saturday. They’re 2-3 after a 69-67 loss Tuesday night at Alice Lloyd in which they rallied from 13 down at the half before falling just short.
Jordan Cross, the freshman from Sullivan East, led the Buffs with 18 points. Tyler Devault had 12 and 10 rebounds.
Milligan previously lost lopsided exhibitions at Charleston Southern (89-59) and East Carolina (101-45). The Buffs open their AAC schedule at home against Virginia Intermont next Tuesday night.
Three straight victories have gotten the women’s basketball team back to .500, at 4-4.
Two of those came against Alice Lloyd – 68-58 in a tournament at Berea and then 87-68 on the road at Pippas Passes, Ky. Junior forward Dorian Freeman came up big in the latter game, with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
The Lady Buffs also open their conference schedule Tuesday night against VI.