Milligan’s men’s cross country team is ranked ninth heading into the NAIA national meet.

Milligan’s season has been all about success, although it has been a while since the Buffs competed on the cross country course. Nevertheless, coach Chris Layne says his mentality has been not to overthink it.

“With the exception of some light adjustments to training and racing, we’ve kept our process the same,” Layne said about preparing for a meet that normally takes place at the end of the fall. “There’s no template so it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out.”

The success of the season so far was on display most when the Buffaloes capped the fall with AAC titles, marking the first time since 2015 that both squads won in the same year. The women won for the 15th time in the last 18 years while the men won for the fourth time in the last sixth years.

Layne, the regional coach of the year for both the men and the women, says the key to success has been staying healthy.

“With COVID-19 lingering, we just had to continue to educate both teams on the importance of following protocol,” he says. “Not just for the sake of getting to the start line, but for the well-being of themselves and those around them. They did a fantastic job of managing this and not letting it effect their performances, which says a lot about them as young men and young women.”

Junior Avery DeWolf and freshman Aaron Jones led their respective squads in the AAC championships, both garnering AAC runner of the year in their individual victories. DeWolf led a group of the top three finishers from Milligan and six finishing in the top 12 on the women’s side. Jones, the USTFCCCA South Region men’s athlete of the year, led a herd of five Buffs inside the top six on the men’s side.

Both DeWolf and Jones will have stout lineups behind them. DeWolf, the indoor national runner-up in the 3k earlier this season, will have 5k national runner-up Bekah Owen along with distance medley relay national runners-up Gabrielle Mardis and Gracie Allen behind her. Running with Jones will be mile national champion Tim Thacker and two-time 3k national champion Nathan Baker, along with indoor All-Americans Jake Crow, Ethan Pfister and Sam Wehner.

“We have two really good groups top to bottom,” Layne said. “I don’t think you have to look any further than indoor nationals or results from the early portion of this outdoor season. I think it will come down to how they process this experience mentally. They have stepped up in every opportunity so I have a lot of confidence in them personally.”

Both squads have been high in the national rankings as well. The women, now No. 4, peaked in the second-to-last poll at No. 3 while the men are sitting inside the top 10 at No. 9. Layne’s program also ranks high based on their results so far from the outdoor season, landing No. 6 and No. 2, respectively, in the national polls for outdoor track & field.

“I believe both squads are confident, but the right type of confident.,” Layne said. “They are smart enough to process what they are doing in training and in races, so I’m certain that is fueling their understanding of what they can do if it all lines up on the day.”