KSU’s Bullard wins first collegiate cross-country race

Grant Engle

Redshirt sophomore Daniel Bullard notched the first individual victory of his collegiate career at the Ball State Invitational in Muncie, Ind. Friday with a time of 25:21.

In the final race before the Mid-American Conference Championships, the Kent State men’s cross-country team convincingly defeated Bowling Green State University 17-42.

The Kent State men turned in a dominating performance with four of the top-5 and seven of the top-9 finishers representing the Flashes.

Redshirt Sophomore Steve Fischer finished with a time of 25:21.1, good enough to earn second place, while redshirt junior Mike Heller continued his successful season with his third top-5 finish in four races. Heller was close behind Fischer and Bullard with a time of 25:21.2.

Kent State coach Mark Croghan said he enjoyed the team mentality as Bullard, Fischer and Heller finished the race with a mere three-tenths of a second separating them.

“It was pretty fun to watch those guys work together through the entire race,” Croghan said. “It didn’t really look like any of the three guys were really kicking in the last 1,000 meters to win the race.”

Bullard said that teamwork in cross-country races is an important part of the sport, and there are several ways to help out teammates.

“When it’s really windy like it was Friday, sometimes you can tuck yourself behind a teammate so you don’t have to battle the resistance as much,” Bullard explained.

“Also, I think it’s a mental thing, but running with a teammate gives you more motivation to keep up.”

Bullard said that he felt like he “kind of stole the win,” as he was mostly focused on keeping up a consistent pace through the finish.

“To be honest, we didn’t know who won the race when we finished,” Bullard admitted. “We felt like we finished side-by-side in a straight line. I must have had a slight edge.”

The Kent State women were lead by redshirt freshman Paige Foster for the fifth-consecutive race. She finished seventh overall with a time of 22:20.5.

Not far behind Foster was redshirt sophomore Melinda Sawnor, who finished 11th overall with a time of 23:00.9.

Sawnor was pleased with her effort, and she said that there were several factors to her good finish.

“It was my best race of the season so far,” Sawnor said. “I was positive going in to the race, and I’m trying to get ready as best I can for the MAC Championships.”

When asked if Foster having the best time in all four of the team’s races motivated the team to get faster, Sawnor explained the team’s attitude toward getting better together.

“Paige has improved a lot since last year and we’re all really proud of her,” Sawnor said. “We’re not necessarily trying to beat her, we just want to work together and motivate each other.”

Heller has experienced a string of success on the men’s side, posting top-10 finishes in all of the team’s races. Bullard was quick to point out Heller’s value to the team.

“Mike’s been a really good leader for us,” Bullard said. “He leads us during practices and most of the races. It all started when he had a really consistent summer.”

The teams will compete at the MAC Championships at the same course in Muncie, Ind. Oct. 29. Croghan and Bullard agreed that seeing the course two weeks before the MAC Championships will benefit the team.

“Now we know that it’s a fast, flat course,” Bullard said. “It’s a real confidence booster to know where you’re at during the race; it helps you know when to make moves.”

“It’s definitely beneficial for what we’re trying to do,” Croghan said. “Seeing the course first allows the athletes to concentrate on other things, like matching up and competing with other individuals.”

As far as winning his first collegiate cross-country event, Bullard, who joined the team as a walk-on, seemed to be pleasantly surprised with his triumph.

“I never thought it would happen,” Bullard said. “If you would have told me that I’d win a college race two years ago I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Contact Grant Engle at [email protected].