Dan Henkey didn’t know he had just accomplished history at the Brissman-Lundeen Cross-Country Invitational on Sept. 23 in Rock Island, Ill.
The Webster University junior felt like he had run a good race, but it wasn’t until several hours after the race ended that he found out the good news. Henkey had broken the school record for an 8K race with a time of 27:21, three seconds better than the old record.
“I didn’t know I broke it right away,” Henkey said. “I felt pretty good about it afterwards, especially since that was one of my goals for last year that I didn’t achieve. But this year I got it in my first (8K) race.”
Henkey was excited about breaking the record, which was set by Derrick McKee in 2008, the first year of the cross-country team’s existence. But Henkey and coach Dusty Lopez figured Henkey would break the record at some point this season.
“It wasn’t a big surprise. He barely missed it last year, and he’s done pretty well establishing a level of consistency in the way he races and the times he’s been able to run,” Lopez said. “When the weather was good and the course was in good shape, I figured it would be a pretty strong possibility.
“He and I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to put that kind of expectation on him. I figured it would happen at some point this year as long as he stayed healthy. It was nice to get it over with because we knew it should have happened already.”
Henkey placed 98th in a field that included runners from NCAA Division II, III and NAIA schools. The Webster men finished 24th out of 33 teams in the overall standings.
But more importantly to Lopez, Webster finished third out of the six St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference teams participating in the meet. The Gorloks edged 25th-placed Westminster College and 26th-placed Fontbonne University and also beat Eureka College (30th place).
But Webster couldn’t catch SLIAC powers Principia College and Greenville College, who finished seventh and ninth, respectively.
“That’s usually the first, and in a lot of cases, the only way we measure ourselves, are those conference schools,” Lopez said. “When you look at Greenville and Principia, both are bigger teams loaded with real experienced guys and talented runners. We’re not trying to give anything up to anybody, but those are two teams that, on paper, would be heavy favorites against us.
“What we decided to focus on is beating the teams we think we can and should beat. We still think we can place higher than we ever have in the conference, but we’re not taking it for granted. The best we’ve ever done is fifth two years ago. It was sixth last year. We should be better than that. It’s just a matter of getting everybody through the season healthy and executing a good race on the day of the championship.”
Rounding out the scoring for the men was senior Tony Morales (126th), freshman Jason Hickson (128th), junior Blake Harris (179th) and freshman Nathan Hitchcock (185th).
Women’s team finishes second of the SLIAC squads
The Webster University women’s cross-country team also competed at the Brissman-Lundeen Invitational. Led by sophomore Heather Heisse and junior Jane McKibben, the Gorloks finished 18th out of the 27 teams participating in the 6K meet.
Webster bested SLIAC foes Fontbonne (22nd), Greenville (23rd) and Eureka (27th). Principia finished 16th overall and took home top honors among SLIAC squads. Even though the Gorloks finished two spots behind Principia, Lopez is pleased with where his team is.
“This is a great example of how cross-country scoring has some quirks in it,” Lopez said. “In a big meet like this, it’s a significant advantage to have a really outstanding individual. Principia has that in (junior) Casey Powell. With Powell being as good as she is — she was 25th overall and our top girl was 89th — they’re basically only scoring four girls against our five.
“We scored it as if it had been the SLIAC championship. We actually beat them by five or six points. The message I give to the team is don’t get overconfident, don’t get complacent, but we’re in good shape relative to where we want to be at the end of the year. The advantage they have of having that really outstanding runner is lessened significantly in a race that’s more concentrated, like the conference meet will be.”
The five Webster women who had their scores count toward the team’s total finished within 29 spots of each other. Heisse and McKibben ran neck and neck throughout the race, as Heisse placed 89th and McKibben placed 90th.
“Coach actually had us start something new for this meet,” Heisse said. “For the first mile, mile and a half, we tried as a team to stick together. After that, we broke off into our own paces. Jane and I are close-together runners. She helped me out and I helped her out, so it was a win-win situation.”
Also placing for the Gorloks was sophomore Julie Greenough (111th), sophomore Eroica Stackhouse (112th) and freshman Kassandra Ochoa (118th).
Next up for both the men’s and women’s cross-country teams is the Rhodes Invitational on Oct. 1 in Memphis, Tenn. The SLIAC championships are scheduled for Oct. 29 in Greenville, Ill.