The JJC Wolves men’s and women’s cross-country teams made history for JJC at their National Championship meet this past November.
The Lady Wolves brought home a national championship and the men finished second after competing in the 2020 National Junior College Athletic Association’s Division III National Championship Meet in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on Nov. 14.
Throughout the season, both teams ran well and even had certain standout athletes take center stage with how well they progressed week to week.
Head coach for both women’s and men’s, Jeffery DeGraw, describes the factor that made his players buy into his system of coaching, along with why the sport is a team game.
“Getting everyone to believe that they are good and that they belong,” DeGraw said. “It is a process throughout the season [with] ups and downs.”
DeGraw had it tough, primarily with the women’s team. He had his last group of sophomore athletes leave following the 2019 season, which meant an entire new class of nine freshmen athletes were entering as his team.
DeGraw singled out his assistant coach Britney Beall for the work she did alongside him in getting the women’s team prepared for the season.
“She works especially hard with the women, running with them and teaching them about all the little things that make a successful runner,” DeGraw said.
As the national championship approached, both teams felt ready and prepared as if they didn’t let the moment get to them.
“Friday afternoon in the hotel at Nationals I knew they were ready,” DeGraw said. “They were so relaxed and enjoying their time together, like they didn’t have a care in the world.”
The women’s team approached the day and went at it from the start. The women’s 41 points were enough to win the school’s first ever women’s National Championship in any sport.
Freshman runner Tiffany Lehmann won the individual title with her 5,000 meter run in 20:10. History was also made with this event, as Lehmann was the first individual national title for JJC student-athlete since 1991 when Jennifer Karges won a title for tennis.
“Everyone on this team, both men and women, have been working hard and have been doing really well as a team,” Lehmann said.
The Lady Wolves had three All-American athletes alongside Lehmann. Freshman Yesenia Suarez, who placed fifth; Ivet Rosiles who placed 12th; and Erica Nurczyk, who ended at 15th.
“Saturday was an amazing day, truly remarkable,” DeGraw said. “The best thing was to see the joy on everyone’s face at what they all had accomplished. For the women, as in any sport, there is only one team that finishes a season with the end and this year it was us.”
Many more awards were given out to the Wolves for, not only their performance on Nov. 14, but during the season and the work they put in.
Coach DeGraw won the NJCAA Division III Women’s Coach of the Meet and the USTFCCCA Central Region Women’s Coach of the Year Honors.
“As far as coach of the year award it’s a by-product of the success of the team,” DeGraw said. “That award should be cut in half and also given to my assistant Britney Beall.”
Lehmann added to her awards she received throughout the season and ended with the biggest awards of them all. She won the NJCAA Division III Runner of the Year and U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Association Central Region Women’s Athlete of the Year Award.
As far as the men’s season goes, it should not be viewed as anything other than pure accomplishment.
The Wolves finished as runner-ups scoring 40 points behind Mineral Area Community College’s 18 points. It was the best finish for the JJC men’s program in school history.
Freshman Julian Rosenbach led the Wolves with a fifth place finish. Followed by freshman brothers Nick and Nate Chaidez. Nick finished 12th and Nate finished eighth. Sophomore Luke Talbot finished 11th. All of these athletes received All-American awards.
The Wolves also took home the NJCAA Division III Gary Moore Award for Best Overall Program, which honors the college for best combined men’s and women’s team.
“We have two saying in our program ‘It’s all mental’ and ‘The little things.’ If you can take care of those, all will be fine,” DeGraw said.
The success of both programs and the individual awards won by the atudent athletes, the team, and the coaching staff almost overwhelemed DeGraw.
“To say I’m proud of them is an understatement,” said DeGraw. “Words cannot describe how I feel about every single member of each team. This is something they will have for the rest of their lives, they will remember Nov. 14th forever, as they should.”