by James Rogers
Claire Muckian, pictured, battled through a week of sickness and led the Hope College women's cross country team to a seventh-place finish at the Lansing Community College Invitational at Grand Woods Park on Friday.
The junior from St. Charles, Illinois (St. Charles East) finished 37th overall and clocked a time of 19 minutes, 59.2 seconds for the 5,000-meter course.
The Flying Dutch separated this weekend to represent the college in two different locations. Head coach Mark Northuis and associate head coach Brian VanZanten traveled to Louisville with a contingent of Hope runners for Saturday's NCAA Division III pre-nationals meet at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park.
Assistant coach Phil Jones guided the Muckian-led Dutch squad on a cool, overcast Friday afternoon in Lansing.
Northuis wanted his Lansing runners to get an opportunity to gain racing strategies and learn how to better operate the middle of the race. He placed emphasis on development. Jones was pleased with what he witnessed out on the course.
"Appreciated the effort today," Jones said. "They felt good about their efforts. Claire led us, and I was pleasantly surprised with how strong she was today."
The surprise was due to Muckian's shaky week of feeling under the weather. With 500 meters to go on Friday, Jones noticed she attacked the final hill really well and powered through the last stretch of the race to dip under 20 minutes.
Sophomore Sarah Cannon of Grand Rapids, Michigan (East Grand Rapids) was the runner-up Dutch in 20:24.8. Her 50th-place result represented progress.
"Sarah crossed the line with a smile," Jones said. "She's been working on her running form, and she feels like she got her legs back today."
Less than two seconds back of Cannon and in third for Hope was sophomore Elizabeth Stevens of Twin Lake, Michigan (Whitehall). Senior Megan Grimes of Plainwell, Michigan (Gull Lake) was No. 4 for the FlyingDutch on Friday in 20:33.1, and freshman Lilly Tripp of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (Seaholm) filled the fifth and final point-scoring slot for Hope in 21:05.4.
Freshman Marisa Guidone of Chicago, Illinois (Home School) was the team's sixth finisher in 21:37.0, and freshman Anna Haseley of Jenison, Michigan (Hudsonville) completed the top seven for the Flying Dutch with a 21:40.3.
Jones and Northuis discussed the race over the phone, and Northuis expressed encouragement with the results considering the state of this group at this point in the season. The coaches believe the Grand Woods Park course in Lansing provides teaching moments that bolster confidence.