Meet Recap: 2021 NAIA Cross Country Championships

Champions were crowned on Friday at the 2021 NAIA Cross Country Championships!


It was the 66th running of the Men’s Championships and the 42nd edition of the Women’s Championships.

The meet was held at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington.

A sweep of the team titles seemed possible as St. Francis (Ill.) occupied the No. 1 position in both the men’s and women’s NAIA National Coaches’ Polls. And a sweep did happen – except it was Milligan (Tenn.) storming to the top in both races. The Buffaloes became just the third institution to claim both team crowns, following British Columbia in 2017 and Adams State (Colo.), who achieved the rare feat in both 1981 and 1989.

2021 NAIA Cross Country Championships – Final Standings

Men’s Team
Women’s Team
No. 3 Milligan (Tenn.)
No. 2 Milligan (Tenn.)
No. 2 Saint Mary (Kan.)
No. 1 St. Francis (Ill.)
No. 5 Indiana Wesleyan
No. 3 Cornerstone (Mich.)
No. 1 St. Francis (Ill.)
No. 4 Taylor (Ind.)
No. 10 College of Idaho
No. 6 College of Idaho

Men’s 8k Championship

It was clear early on that rankings meant little today. No. 3 Milligan (Tenn.) came from way back to earn the program’s first NAIA national cross country title with 115 points. The Buffs weren’t among the top-10 teams for most of the race, checking in at 11th after the 6k post, but Aaron Jones led the a strong finish in 11th place as Milligan won by 60 points over No. 2 Saint Mary (Kan.), who matched a program-high of second place with 175 points. No. 5 Indiana Wesleyan was third with 186 points, while No. 1 St. Francis (Ill.) followed in fourth (215) ahead of No. 10 College of Idaho (222).

Milligan’s victory completed a meteoric rise to the top. The Buffaloes had never finished in the top-10 before last year’s third-place effort.  Jones was followed by Nathan Baker (14th) and Eli Cramer (20th) as the Buffs were the only squad with three top-20 finishers. Will Stockley (27th) and Jake Crow (58th) completed Milligan’s scoring five, which had a 1-5 span of 53 seconds.

Zouhair Talbi of Oklahoma City repeated as individual champion in 24:43.1 to become the meet’s 14th back-to-back men’s winner. Teammate Shimales Abebe was runner-up for the second-straight year, pulling away from third-place finisher Logan Hunt, a freshman from COI, 24:56.6 to 24:58.8. Luke Pohl of Cornerstone (Mich.) was fourth in 25:09.7 and Emad Bashir-Mohammed of Friends (Kan.) was fifth in 25:10.2.

Women’s 5k Championship

About a half hour after Milligan’s team crown in the men’s competition was announced, the women completed a sweep of team titles. Unlike Milligan’s men, however, the women were in control all the way. Ultimate individual champ Alyssa Bearzi and teammate Lemi Wutz stayed among the early leaders and finished 1-5 as No. 2 Milligan scored 122 points to win by 19 over No. 1 St. Francis (Ill.), as the defending champs totaled 141 points. No. 3 Cornerstone was close behind in third with 149 points, followed by No. 4 Taylor (Ind.) at 164 and No. 6 College of Idaho with 183.

Bearzi and Wutz were joined by Avery DeWolf in 11th to make the Buffs the only squad with three runners in the top-20, while Caitlin Dominy (61st) and Gracie Allen (73rd) completed team’s top-5. Milligan’s previous best women’s team finish in this meet was 7th, achieved last year and in 2017.

Bearzi  won the individual title in 18:14.9 with a fast finish ahead of a similarly hard-closing Sydney Little Light of Rocky Mountain (Mont.), who crossed the line in 18:16.8. Breanna Alderton of Brescia (Ky.) was third in 18:22.9, followed by Becca Richtman of Montana Tech (18:23.2) and Wutz (18:29.4).