VANCOUVER, Wash. -- John Gilbertson of The Master's ran what the eighth-year head coach Zach Schroeder described as "a tactically perfect race" en route to earning the NAIA National Cross Country individual championship in a time of 23:56.
A total of 327 men toed the line on Saturday morning to vie for individual and team titles, but it was the senior Gilbertson from Saugus, California, (LA Baptist High School) that had everyone in his rear view mirror. Running with a lead pack of five runners through the first half of the race, Gilbertson settled in until the lead pack was reduced to three runners with 3K left in the race. During the last mile of the race, Gilbertson was able to finish executing the race plan that had been designed for him as he pulled away and finished with a time under 24 minutes and the title of national champion in his last collegiate cross country race.
"The Lord gave me the strength in my legs that I needed to put in the right surges at the right times to create some space and kick it to the finish," Gilbertson said. "I was blessed by God today. This (a national championship) was a goal, but it didn't seem very realistic at the beginning of the summer. But as the season progressed and I kept winning (races), it became more relevant that I could go to the front and stay at the front."
Gilbertson completed the fall season by winning each of the seven races he entered, including the UC Irvine Invitational, Stanford Invitational, and the Bronco Invitational at Santa Clara University.
It was a historic day in distance running since it had been 23 years since an American-born runner claimed the top prize in NAIA men's cross country. The last time it happened, calendars displayed 1989 when Rick Robirds from Adams State (Colo.) won his third individual title in four years. This was the third time a GSAC runner has won the NAIA Men's Cross Country individual championship. Aron Rono of Azusa Pacific won the race in 2007 and 2008.
As a team, The Master's men's cross country team earned an eighth-place finish out of 31 teams. Joining Gilberton in earning NAIA All-America honors by finishing in the top 30 were Cameron Barela of Vanguard (12th), Anthony Pizzo of The Master's(15th), Matthew Day of Westmont (21st) and Ricky Avila of Concordia (30th). Both Gilbertson and Pizzo earned their third consecutive All-America selection and Avila his second.
In the women's cross country race, the Biola team finished in tenth place followed by Concordia in 11th and Westmont in 18th. Individually, Hannah Kellerman of The Master's (right) was the top GSAC women's finisher crossing the line in eighth place. Also earning NAIA All-America honors with a top-30 finish were GSAC Champion Rocio Pelayo of Concordia (13th), Kellian Hunt of Biola (15th), and Karis Frankian of The Master's (26th). Pelayo also earned All-America honors in 2008.