Buffs, Lady Buffs on to NAIA Nationals

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   The young and the talented.
   The Milligan College men's and women's cross country teams came into the season relatively inexperienced, but have come on to enjoy a fine year.
   Three men and two women have qualified for the NAIA national meet, which will take place on Saturday in Kenosha, Wis.
   Two weeks ago at regionals, the men's team finished second and the women's team finished fourth.
   "We do have a young team," Milligan head coach Chris Layne said. "Had anyone said we would be in this position at this point in the season, I would have to say I'm surprised. "We were inexperienced coming in, and though I knew we had folks with potential, I thought it would be a year or two until we really developed it. But the ones that are at this point and are going to nationals, those are the ones that deserve to go. They're the ones that have put the extra work in. They've become students of running.
   "They deserve every bit of it."
   Of all the stories on Milligan's team, the most intriguing may be on the women's side with Megan Lease.
   Lease has only been running cross country at all for two years, but she's already made great strides as a freshman by winning the regional meet by 34 seconds.
   According to Lease, she was a late bloomer when it comes to cross country.
   "I only ran one year of cross country (in high school)," the Camden N.C. native said. "I placed 19th in the state."
   Lease was not even coached in high school, which makes what she has accomplished even more amazing.
   Lease gives a lot of credit for her success to good coaching at Milligan.
   "I think the coach has been a key factor in that," Lease said. "In high school I didn't even have a coach."
   As for her win at the region, Lease thought it was the thrill of a lifetime.
   "It was really exciting to win a big race like that," Lease said. "I had never won something like that before."
   Joining Lease at the nationals will be Lauren Gross. Gross, who went to high school at Cave Spring High in Roanoke, Va. with Duke basketball player J.J. Redick, has made a name for herself in cross country.
   Gross is very excited about the opportunity to go to nationals.
   "It's something I never expected," Gross said. "I'm real excited to go and spend time with the team, and hopefully have a good race.
   Gross is only a sophomore, and realizes this is a young team. She only expects things to get better for her and the Milligan squad as time goes on.
   "I think over the next four years we'll continue to get better," Gross said. "Especially with how good the freshman are now."
   The three Milligan men that are going to nationals are Chris Wright, Ted Dubois and Ryan Starr.
   Wright and Starr finished first and second in the regional meet, which is a major team accomplishment.
   "It felt great," Wright said. "I can't even describe it in words. It felt great to win. Ryan and I have had the same goal all year to go 1-2, and it worked out perfectly. We didn't quite break 26 minutes, but we came close to it. We're hoping to break 26 at nationals.
   According to Wright, a freshman, the 1-2 finish almost didn't happen.
   "We were worried there for a second," Wright said. "The Berea guys were ahead of us with a mile to go. We really worked our butts off the last 100 meters."
   Starr also thought what happened at regionals was special.
   "It was just exciting to qualify for nationals," Starr said. "To have five going is special, because it's more than we've had in previous years.
   Starr is not only happy about the opportunity to go to nationals, but also about how this Milligan program has developed over the last several seasons.
   "It's exciting to see the program improve throughout the four years, and to see it going in the right direction," Starr said.
   Dubois making the nationals might be the biggest surprise. The transfer student started out the season in the Coach Layne's doghouse, but after his work ethic improved, he definitely didn't stay there.
   "I didn't come into this season with a very good attitude," Dubois said. "I wasn't really focused. I hadn't run a whole lot. I missed practices, and so I ended up sitting out a meet at Virginia Tech. It kind of opened my eyes to everything, and ever since then we've gotten our differences worked out, and we've worked for the best.
   Dubois is now not taking anything for granted after what he's been through.
   "I have to thank God for everything I have," Dubois said. "I think He's given me the ability and the power, and I just want to use it to glorify Him."