The initial season by the cross country program at Southwestern Assemblies of God University came to an exciting close Saturday in Ohio.

Both the men’s and women’s teams qualified for a berth in the National Christian College Athletic Association’s 40th National Championship thanks to an impressive inaugural season.

There were 44 teams in the two men’s divisions, where SAGU finished 24th. There were 33 teams, including the Lions, in Division I.

The women’s squad was reduced to four members, primarily due to injuries. To earn points, teams must have five runners.

Cedarville University hosted the event at its Elvin R. King XC Course. The site location was dedicated in 2006, created amid 150 acres at the north end of the CU campus.

“The course was very slow this year and the weather was cold as well,” said SAGU head coach Jason Covarrubias about the weather, which was 51 degrees as the race started. “Our men competed shorthanded and that was evident in the final standings.”

The team was missing Waxahachie graduate Brad Beimler, who was serving as an Army Reservist.

The upbeat Covarrubias spoke of the benefits of competing at such a venue.

“The experience of performing on the biggest stage was awesome. The all- freshman men’s squad grew up in their athletic career this weekend,” Covarrubias said. “We are looking to capitalize off this meet next year.”

SAGU’s top finisher in the 8K race, among 231 runners, was John Hillhouse. He came in at No. 109 with a time of 28:17.02.

Jose L. Campos was the next Lion to finish at 28:35.26.

Juan Rubio, 29:34.12, Nathaniel Gonzales, 30:58.31, and Luke Flattery, 32:13.30, completed SAGU’s maiden trip to Nationals.

The overall winner was Andrew Reidsma, from Trinity Christian College. The senior broke the tape at 25:13.36.

The winning team was Azusa Pacific University, followed by Roberts Wesleyan College and Arizona Christian University. A year ago, Covarrubias led the men’s team from Arlington Baptist College to the NCCAA Division II championship in their first year of existence.

“They gained the knowledge of how it feels to run on a big stage with some of the nation’s top runners,” the coach said of his runners. “The NCCAA National Championships will serve as a learning curve in both our training regimen and our (future) racing strategies.”

Standing by his belief that “no race is a bad race,” Covarrubias, a glass half-full kind of motivator, concluded.

“We can always take (learn) something with us every time the starter pistol is fired. It was a good finish to a great inaugural season,” Covarrubias said. “We are no longer all freshmen. We now have a solid year under our belts.”