Sarah Chapman ends Missouri cross-country career with podium finish at SEC Championship

The team battled for sixth and seventh place finishes in the season finale.

Going into her senior season, Sarah Chapman didn’t expect to place in the top three at the Southeastern Conference Championship.

Chapman, who finished 18th at the meet last year, knew she was fit when she returned to campus. But it wasn’t until the Gans Creek Classic when she realized she had a shot.

“I didn’t expect to win that race,” Chapman said with a laugh. “I thought it would be nice to break up the Arkansas team, and then I just found myself at the front, and I was like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t expecting this.’”

The home meet was a turning point for Chapman, prompting her to set a goal to finish in the top five at the SEC meet. But her ambition to compete with the top runners in the nation began back in March when the outdoor track season was canceled and most athletes returned home due to COVID-19.

“I didn’t get too upset about the fact that outdoors hadn’t happened,” Chapman said. “When I was at home, all we could do was run.”

When Chapman arrived back in her hometown of Maidenhead, England, she was already thinking about the cross-country season. She set her sights on making it to the national meet, which is currently postponed.

The country went on a strict lockdown, which focused Chapman’s attention on training and building a solid base.

“You were allowed out once a day to exercise, and I feel like I made the most of every run I did because it was only time I was allowed outside,” Chapman said.

The months spent away from her teammates, coaches and support system changed her mindset once the season began.

“I feel like my approach has been different because I had to train by myself for so long,” Chapman said. “I think in the back of my mind, when I didn’t want to go out for a run, or when it got hard in a workout or got hard in a race, I would just think about all those times I had to run by myself, and make the most of not having to do that anymore.”

Before deciding to come to the United States, Chapman competed in the United Kingdom at the University of Birmingham for her first two years of college.

The team dynamic drew her to Missouri. When she visited, she enjoyed how friendly and cohesive the team was.

“There’s much more of a team aspect of everything we do, compared to in the U.K. where you just do your own thing,” Chapman said.

She felt right at home with Missouri’s runners.

“It is kind of like a weird little family, and I just didn’t get that welcome from anywhere else,” Chapman said.

With her team in mind, Chapman was determined to meet her goals at her last cross-country race.

When the gun went off at the SEC meet, Chapman headed to the front, keeping a steady pace. She hit the one-mile mark in fourth place at 5:18.5 and then moved into second place during the latter half of the race, chasing Alabama’s Mercy Chelangat.

Chapman held out over the final kilometers, but she was overtaken by Kentucky’s Jenna Gearing in the last 100 meters and finished third. Her consistency throughout the race paid off with a personal best of 19:58.8 and her first All-SEC First Team Honors.

“Sarah ran a very smart race today and put herself in position over the last kilometer to finish in the top 3,” coach Marc Burns said.

The rest of Missouri’s scoring runners finished in pairs.

Sophomore Ginger Murnieks and freshman McKenna Revord crossed the line within seconds of each other in 43rd and 49th place respectively. Revord’s performance secured her a spot on the All-SEC Freshman Team.

Senior Lexi Maddox came in 82nd place at 22:05.1 and sophomore Kelsey Schweizer finished in 22:09.6 for 84th.

The women placed seventh with 230 points, 32 points behind Vanderbilt and 19 points ahead of Georgia.

“As a team, we feel like we left some points out there,” Burns said. “We got buried early and worked hard to battle out but just ran out of time. We are proud of the way the team fought throughout the entire race.”

The men’s race followed, and Missouri got out fast. The top five runners, wearing their gold singlets, stood out among the front pack at the beginning of the race.

As the men approached the two-mile mark, a separation formed between the leading pack and the rest of the runners. Senior Kieran Wood maintained his position in the front group, but his teammates faded.

“Kieran was locked in from the start today,” Burns said. “He put himself in the front group the entire race and finished strong for fourth. It has been fun to see him find another level of success in cross-country after missing last season.”

Wood led the team in fourth place with a time of 22:37.2 to capture All-SEC First Team Honors. Junior Martin Prodanov finished behind him in 20th, followed by freshman William Sinclair and junior Marquette Wilhite in 41st and 42nd respectively. Freshman Blake Morris filled the fifth spot in 25:16.0, a standout performance for 50th place.

Sinclair also made the All-SEC Freshman Team, and the men’s squad placed sixth out of 12 teams with 151 points.

The runners missed their goal of two top-five team finishes, but they returned home with valuable experience and promising individual performances from their young team.

“We are expecting big things from this crew moving forward, and I think they will be ready to shake things up in the conference next year,” Burns said.

After a momentous senior cross-country season, Chapman reflected on her time at Missouri.

“The thing I’ll miss the most is definitely the people I’ve met, like I’ve made some of my lifelong friends,” Chapman said. “And then just getting to run in such a competitive and cool environment.”

The impacts of COVID-19 on the season caused stress for the athletes, but Chapman is satisfied with how the team handled it.

“There was a whole lot of pressure on us, but it was worth it in the end,” Chapman said.

Edited by Jack Soble |

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