Talk about a dominating performance.
Milligan College raced to five of the first six positions in the women’s 5,000 meters at the second annual Johnson City Invitational track meet on Friday night at Kermit Tipton Stadium.
Gillian Giffen scored the win with a time of 18:24. While the time didn’t qualify her for the NAIA Outdoor National Championships, the race served another purpose. Head coach Chris Layne told her to start off with a fast pace to prepare her for the type of racing at the national championships.
“All the big races, they go out fast, especially at the nationals,” Giffen said. “There is always a change in pace, so it was good to go out there and hammer it and see if you can hang on.
“It felt good on the first mile, but the middle of the race is always tough. I was able to pull out that last kick at the end.”
The kick was enough for Giffen finish 12 seconds ahead of teammate Danielle Mitchell. It was a stellar effort for Mitchell, a former Daniel Boone standout, who kept pace with Giffen throughout the race.
“I’ve never went out that fast,” Mitchell said. “I was going to try to hang with her to the end. I stayed there as long as I could.
“I was surprised how it felt so easy at the beginning, but it really gets you at the end. It was tough, but it was a good race.”
Completing the Milligan efforts, McKenzie Patten finished fourth, Janey Robinson of Elizabethton was fifth and Paxton Stephenson was sixth.
All of the top five finished under 20 minutes with Robinson coming in at 19:54.
In the men’s 5,000, Milligan’s Austin Ellis won with a time of 15:00, only one second off his personal best. Two spots behind was teammate Nathan Meeuwenberg, whose 15:31 beat his old p.r. by 20 seconds.
Earlier in the evening, the Milligan College women’s distance medley relay team got things off on the right foot beating runner-up Carson-Newman by over a minute.
Christine McMahon pushed the Lady Buffs to a big lead during the opening leg, and her teammates maintained the lead the rest of the way.
“I just tried to go out and maintain my pace,” McMahon said about her 1,200-meter run. “I ended up under four minutes. I did what I was supposed to do, so I was happy.
“The other girls did their paces too. We just did what we had to do.”
With no major miscues, the Lady Buffs completed the race in 13:38.
“For that group of girls, it was a good training effort,” Milligan coach Chris Layne said. “Christine put us in a good place to get rolling and it gave the other girls a good chance to compete.
“Anytime you win, it’s good. You race to compete, you race to win and the girls did a good job tonight.”
Caitlin Wood kept the distance over the second leg of the race, while Heather Exline and anchor Shannon Wilson helped Milligan stay in front by a comfortable margin.
The race served as a nice confidence builder for Exline, an Ohio native, who has suffered with injuries with her right leg and ankle throughout the season.
“I came off an injury in my second race, and it’s kind of gotten in my head,” she said. “It’s different for different people to recover from injury, but for me, the challenge has been mental.”
Her coach was glad to see her competitive nature come out.
“In her case, it was an opportunity to get a hard effort in,” Layne said. “It’s really tough to simulate racing in practice, so you have to use real racing environments to get that competitive fire.”
Milligan finished second in the men’s distance relay, 14 seconds behind winner Bryan College.
The women’s discus throw was the only field event completed on Friday as other scheduled events were either postponed or cancelled due to rain.
Jamara Cook of Lees-McRae won the discus throw with a heave of 35.41 meters. Janie Smith of Milligan finished fifth with a 28.05-meter effort.
The focus shifts to both high school and college action today. The revised schedule has the meet starting at 9 a.m. with the college long jump. Events last throughout the day with an awards ceremony scheduled for 6:30 p.m.