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Illness derails SOU men; women 14th

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sophomore Jessa Perkinson and the Southern Oregon University women overachieved by seven spots for the second-best showing in program history Saturday morning at the NAIA Championships.

But instead of enjoying that performance after the meet, SOU head coach Grier Gatlin had to go straight from the McAlpine Park course to urgent care. It was that kind of day, and night, for the second-ranked Raider men.

Perkinson became an All-American — SOU's second in the last six years — by placing 13th in the women's 5,000-meter race with a time of 17 minutes 56 seconds, leading the Raider women to 14th place in the team standings after coming in with the No. 21 ranking.

By the time that race got going, though, the Raider men's try at their first title since 2010 had already been spoiled by sickness. All-American Jared Hixon and Cascade Conference individual champion Ray Schireman were scratched due to sickness that caught up with them overnight, and SOU finished 23rd while racing two men down.

The Raiders, ranked No. 1 all season until last week, had finished second at nationals the last three years and no worse than fourth since 2008.

"I feel really bad for the three fifth-year seniors on our team, especially Hixon because he couldn't even make it out of the hotel," Gatlin said. "We were all disappointed to have this stroke of bad luck at this meet. ... There's nothing they could do."

Oklahoma City won its third straight men's title, and Northwest Christian won its first on the women's side.

On a positive note for the Raiders, Perkinson was just 39 seconds off the pace of the women's champion, Biola's Kellian Hunt. Senior Rebecca Lupescu, making her third straight appearance at the meet for SOU, took 51st place in 18:44.8.

SOU's other three scorers were 90th-place Kayle Blackmore (19:06.6), 126th-place Margarita Lauer (19:30) and 147th-place Aspen Abbott (19:45.4), all of whom are eligible to return next year, too.

The Raiders improved on their 25th-place team finish of a year ago. Their only prior appearance had been in 2010, when they finished seventh.

"The women ran really well," Gatlin said. "The highlight was Jessa, but we were really good as a team."

For the men, Trevor Lynn (25:52.5) and Caleb Diaz (25:54.6) paced the group in the 8K in 53rd and 56th place, respectively. Eli Stillman was 119th (26:37.8), Connor Cushman, who was also battling illness, took 143rd (26:54.2); and Zach Boyd-Helm was 150th (26:56.6).

Hixon had been primed to improve on his 16th-place finish of a year ago. Schireman, who was the fastest Raider his last three times out, was also scratched from last year's meet due to illness.

Wayland Baptist junior Bernard Keter won the men's individual title in 24:14.2.