When she toed the starting line Saturday morning at Hardeeville High School, Selena Hutson did so with a lingering sense of disappointment.
The feeling was shared with her boyfriend, fellow USC Beaufort cross country runner Marshall Meyer, who had just fallen short of his goal of qualifying for the NAIA National Championships, at least for the time being.
Less than 20 minutes later, Hutson had turned around both of their moods by taking 10th place in the Sun Conference Championships with a school-record time of 19 minutes, 10 seconds, and earning an individual bid to nationals.
"I'm kind of on a little bit of a runner's high right now," Hutson said. "I'm really excited, but I just really wish the team could go with me."
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Neither USCB team qualified -- Embry-Riddle swept the team titles, as expected -- but Hutson became the second Sand Shark woman to make nationals in as many years after Katie Mock did so last season.
For now, it doesn't appear Meyer will be able to join her in two weeks in Vancouver, Wash., but he does hold an outside chance of keeping alive USCB's streak of sending at least one male runner to nationals the past two years.
The Sand Sharks junior needed to finish among the top five runners not affiliated with the winning team to clinch a berth -- a goal he missed by one spot and 26 seconds.
Meyer's hopes are now pinned to rival SCAD Savannah, which is hopeful of being one of eight teams to be awarded an at-large bid Monday. The Bees finished second Saturday and had four runners snag qualifying spots.
"They've been getting better and better all through the year. They're on the move," Meyer said. "What they're doing right now is just surprising us so much. They turned some heads today."
Now Meyer has to hope the Bees turned enough heads to snag one of those eight at-large bids, which would bump him back into qualifying position.
Meyer didn't figure to be in this position when he won the Sand Shark Invitational on the same course three weeks ago, but he said the rigors of a long season began to wear on him a bit Saturday.
"To be a champion, you've got to overcome certain things, and I guess I just didn't overcome it today," Meyer said. "I just got into the race, and I just didn't have it."
The race for those individual spots was the only drama in the men's race, as seventh-ranked Embry-Riddle ran away with the team title. Eagles all-Americans Evans Kirwa, Sam Vazquez and Russel Snyder paced the field, and the Eagles had six of the top 11 finishers -- all of whom finished the five-mile race in under 26 minutes.
Kirwa won his second consecutive conference crown with a time of 24:29 -- 2 seconds ahead of Vazquez -- and impressive feat for someone who says he is "still learning how to run" after picking up the sport as a junior in high school.
On the women's side, Webber International's Juline Brice also repeated as champion, edging Ave Maria's Marya Haegler by 4 seconds despite a temporary wrong turn in the second mile of the five-kilometer race.
Embry-Riddle had little trouble holding off SCAD for the team title, and Hutson's was good enough to grab the last of the five individual bids to nationals.
"I think today shows how much depth this conference has," Kimball said. "Two years ago, this never would've happened. The whole conference has taken it to the next level."
SUN CONFERENCE SUPERLATIVES
Coach of the year: Michael Rosolino, Embry-Riddle
Runner of the year: Evans Kirwa, Embry-Riddle
Newcomer of the year: Josh Guerrero, Embry-Riddle
Champion of Character: Nick Curtis, SCAD Savannah
Co-coach of the year: Michael Rosolino, Embry-Riddle; Michael Sergi, SCAD Savannah
Runner of the year: Juline Brice, Webber International
Newcomer of the year: Marya Haegler, Ave Maria
Champion of Character: Kristine Grannan, USC Beaufort
SUN CONFERENCE CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Results from the Sun Conference Cross Country Championships, held Saturday in Hardeeville. Men's course is five miles; women's course is five kilometers.
1. Embry-Riddle 24; 2. SCAD Savannah 42; 3. Webber International 90; 4. USC Beaufort 93; 5. Warner 143; 6. Ave Maria 170; 7. Johnson & Wales 233; 8. Northwood 234; 9. St. Thomas 256; 10. Florida Memorial 288.
1. Evans Kirwa, Embry-Riddle, 24:29; 2. Sam Vazquez, Embry-Riddle, 24:31; 3. Russel Snyder, Embry-Riddle, 25:06; 4. Ignacio Cesar Fernandez Lazaro, SCAD, 25:17; 5. Jonathan Mott, Webber, 25:19; 6. Patrick Cooley, SCAD, 25:33; 7. John Sutherland, SCAD, 25:36; 8. Alex Frazier, Embry-Riddle, 25:39; 9. Ben Harrison, SCAD, 25:41; 10. Josh Guerrero, Embry-Riddle, 25:46; 11. Zach Kraus, Embry-Riddle, 25:58; 12. Marshall Meyer, USCB, 26:07; 13. Orssie Bumpus, Warner, 26:16; 14. Brett Galloway, Embry-Riddle, 26:17; 15. Dan Dechellis, Embry-Riddle, 26:19.
12. Marshall Meyer 26:07; 16. Frank Tinsley 26:20; 20. John Critchlow 26:30; 22. Tommy Reeves 26:39; 34. Ian Evans 28:41; 35. John Stanas 28:42; 50. Evan Szankowski 31:31.
1. Embry-Riddle 29; 2. SCAD Savannah 51; 3. USC Beaufort 86; 4. Webber International 88; 5. Ave Maria 130; 6. Warner 155; 7. Florida Memorial 206; 8. St. Thomas 223; 9. Northwood 267.
1. Juline Brice, Webber, 18:07; 2. Marya Haegler, Ave Maria, 18:11; 3. Flo Vazquez, Embry-Riddle, 18:17; 4. Hannah Lieberman, SCAD, 18:28; 5. Erika Langhauser, Embry-Riddle, 18:36; 6. Karina Coelho, Embry-Riddle, 18:39; 7. Julie Mayfield, Embry-Riddle, 18:44; 8. Ellie Staker, Embry-Riddle, 18:47; 9. Megan O'Boyle, SCAD, 19:06; 10. Selena Hutson, USCB, 19:10; 11. Sarah Caskey, SCAD, 19:36; 12. Natalie Johnson, SCAD, 19:38; 13. Katie Mock, USCB, 19:41; 14. Deborah Reibach-Botha, Webber, 19:53; 15. Heather Riniker, SCAD, 20:00.
10. Selena Hutson 19:10; 13. Katie Mock 19:41; 18. Vannica Williams 20:06; 20. Kristine Grannan 20:30; 26. Caitlin Howe 21:15; 27. Jessica Brown 21:19; 29. Kari Lavoie 21:26; 30. Sarah Turrubiate 21:31; 36. Alaina Nunn 22:11; 47. Samantha Wilcutt 23:55.