Cross country finishes season with two top-50 runners


Senior Drew Johnson competes at the MAC Championship in Ypsilanti, Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 30. 

Jimmy Oswald Sports Editor

It was 2014 the last time the Kent State cross country team had a runner place in the top-50 at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships in Evansville, Indiana. 

The Flashes had two this year. 

Senior Drew Johnson finished 44th with a time of 30:55.6, and freshman Baidy Ba placed 49th with a time of 31:02.8 in the men’s 10K. 

Coach James Croft said that the two athletes are very similar. 

“They’re very well rounded,” he said. “They can run a fast 800 meter, and they can run a fast 10K. They have a complete package of God-given talent. And their headspace is definitely in the right spot.” 

Johnson’s finish was a personal record, and it tied for the highest placement for a Flash in the regionals since 2012. 

Croft said that Johnson, in particular, grew mentality. 

“He trusts himself,” Croft said. “And he is able to compete upfront. It’s a combination of talent and mental fortitude.” 

Ba was the first true freshman to cross the finish line, and it capped off a great season for the freshman. He was in the top-two finishers for the men’s team in every meet this season, including a first place at the Falcon Invitational. 

“[Ba] is so naïve that he doesn’t know what to expect,” Croft said. “There is some ‘Oh, Notre Dame is here. They’re trying to win the national title.’ His plan was just to stick with Drew [Johnson]. So there is some kind of convincing you have to do mentally for yourself in order to do that. And he did.” 

Sophomore Joe Farley was the next KSU men’s runner to finish, placing 137th with a time of 32:55.9. 

Farley had success for most of the season, finishing as the men’s top runner in the first three meets, but lingering health issues have caused him to struggle as of late. 

Croft said that next season he doesn’t expect Farley “to miss a beat.”

“Not doing the best in the championship part of the season is tough,” Croft said. “But he has shown that he is on the level of Drew [Johnson] and Baidy [Ba]. Joe [Farley’s] going to be the future of Kent State cross country. He’s going to be a leader for us and do big things. It’s just a learning experience for him.”

The men’s team finished 17th out of 30 teams with a score of 558. 

Notre Dame finished first with a score of 56. 

Eastern Michigan finished in seventh, Toledo in 11th, Miami in 13th, Ohio in 14th, Central Michigan in 19th, and Bowling Green in 25th. 

Several high-powered schools competed in the race, including two of the best cross country teams in the nation in Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

Croft said that convincing the runners that they can compete with that kind of competition is hard.

“It’s like looking at Ohio State playing football,” he said. “It’s like ‘well there’s no way you can play with them.’ But in our sport, you actually can. You just have to remind yourself that these people are human, and they have good races and bad races. It’s tough for anybody.”

Croft added that the runners just needed to remind themselves that they can hang with them, something that Johnson realized during the race.

“Halfway through the race [Johnson] said ‘Oh, I can run with these guys,’” Croft said. “He told me that it felt like he was passing people with every step.”

The women’s team finished 24th out of 31 teams in the 6K with a score of 618.

Notre Dame finished first again, with a score of 56.

“Our goal was top 20,” Croft said. “And they were sitting at 21st with a kilometer to go, but a couple of teams slid right by us at the very end. But I can’t be upset, we had three or four personal records, and they did exactly what I told them to do. We told them what time each person needed to hit for us to get top 20, and they did that. It’s just that everyone else ran really fast too.” 

Graduate student Stephanie Ward was the first Flash on the women’s team to cross the finish line, placing 71st with a time of 21:21.3. 

Ward has been the team’s best runner in all four meets she has competed in this season.

Croft admitted he has said it after every race, but that Ward gets better with each meet. 

“That’s how she was before she was here,” he said. “She got a little bit more comfortable. She didn’t have the training to execute exactly what we wanted this season. She had dreams of winning the MAC championship and being top 25 in the regional. And the training prevented that, it wasn’t anything mentally or emotionally. She definitely wanted it.” 

Senior Leah Lisle rounded out the women’s top-100 finisher, crossing the finish line at 98th with a time of 21:58.8.

Croft said that the aspect of Lisle that has improved most over her time at KSU is her leadership.

“When there’s something that needs to be said, she doesn’t mind opening up and saying it now,” Croft said. “She’s taken ownership of the team and knows what she can do up front can really help. She’s also just intrinsically motivated, so she wants to do good for herself. She had goals of finally breaking 22 minutes and she just dipped under.” 

Croft said that, once again, the three-four-five runners did an excellent job.

“Two of those three had personal records,” he said. “You can see the mentality of the whole team shifting. They are trusting themselves, and they believe we can do the things we set out to do.” 

That three-four-five combination consisted of junior Nina Zraik (136th, 22:32.8), freshman Sydney Gallagher (158th, 22:49.9) and junior Nicole DiCicco (160th, 22:52.3). 

The meet was the team’s last of the season, and Croft it was the most complete race of the year for both sides.

“They kept their heads on straight,” he said. “They didn’t let the moment get too big, it was the biggest race we’ve done all year. And they didn’t really get nervous at all, which is a good quality to have.”

Looking to next year, Croft said the hope is that the team has a bright future ahead.

“We just need to keep them healthy,” he said. “If you can stay healthy in this sport and stay consistent in training, you’re going to get better. You don’t want to get into the idea of ‘I have to get more.’ Because that can break you down, and you can get spotty with training and then the results don’t happen. If we just keep to the basics, we’re going to get a lot better.”

Both the men’s and women’s team will look very similar to this year, with no one graduating from the two squads.

The men’s team is expected to add Alex Stamper, who was KSU’s first All-MAC First Team performer since 2012 last season, after he missed this season studying abroad in Italy.

“So we plug in Stamper,” Croft said. “And we plug in a healthy Joe [Farley]. We’re looking to not just be a top three team but, if the day presents itself, go for the win.” 

Croft said the women have already made goals for next season.

“I know we can definitely improve on our team score,” Croft said. “We can be top seven, but if we get the right pieces we could be top six or top five.”

Kent State has not had a runner qualify for the NCAA Championships since 2012, but the team looks to be as competitive as those in the early 2010s. 

“With everyone back, we can only get better.”

Jimmy Oswald is a sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]