(New Orleans, La.) Annie Hills, Francesca Vaccaro, Kennedi Henneberger and Paul Freese will compete for Loyola University New Orleans at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships this month. The meet will be held at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kansas on November 26th with the men’s race slated for 10:30 a.m. and the women’s competition starting at 11:45 a.m.
Hills will run at the NAIA Nationals for the second consecutive season. Last year she was the lone Loyola representative. She bolted to the seventh fastest time for a Wolf Pack runner at the event when she ran 20:48 in Vancouver, Washington. This season, Hills qualified for nationals after finishing seventh at the SSAC Championship meet on November 9th. Her time of 19:34.76 was the fifth fastest in school history. For her efforts, Hills earned SSAC All-Conference honors for the second straight year. The senior from Swisher, Iowa currently holds the top time in school history with a 19:14 at the Sand Shark Invitational set on October 26th. She holds three of the top five marks in Loyola history in the 5k as well as the top two times.
“I can’t believe this is my final race. Dating back to junior high, I have been running cross country for 10 seasons. It probably will not hit me until next fall when I’m not at Loyola training for an upcoming season. I’ve enjoyed my time with my teammates for the past two years. It has been a great experience training for Coach Andy and I’m grateful for the opportunity to compete and train with all my teammates over the course of my career,” said Hills.
Vaccaro qualified for Nationals with a time of 19:51.14 that placed her 15th at the SSAC Championships. She ran the course in 20:27 last season but finished 16th and narrowly missed the 2012 Nationals. The Yorba Linda, Calif. native walked onto the team last September and immediately became one of the top runners on the squad. She posted a season best of 19:55 at the Sand Shark Invitational. This season, she had the third fastest time in school history as she finished the Sand Shark Invitational in 19:24. In addition to her exploits on the course, Vaccaro is also a member of the University Honors program, majoring in biology.
“Balancing cross country and academics has been difficult. There have been sacrifices that I had to make, but I am extremely passionate about both areas of my life. Running has become a part of my identity and crucial for my success in the classroom. It has fostered my endurance and ability to work hard even when I would rather not. These traits have helped me in the classroom. Personally, I feel that running has always complimented every other area of my life,” stated Vaccaro
Henneberger will join Hills and Vaccaro in the women’s race after qualifying by finishing 13th at the SSAC Championship with a time of 19:49.78. The freshman from Richardson, Texas, burst onto the scene by finishing 8th at the Loyola Wolf Pack Invitational in her first collegiate meet. Henneberger then entered the Loyola record books by running the Sand Shark Invitational in 19:27, the fourth fastest time in school history. She earned SSAC All-Freshman team honors for her efforts at the SSAC Championship.
“I've been working hard in practices and have been pushing myself throughout the fall. As a freshman, I didn't know what to expect coming into the season, but my hard work paid off. I'm excited to compete against many of the best runners in the country at nationals,” stated Henneberger.
Freese also qualified for the NAIA Nationals and will be the first male Wolf Pack competitor since 2009. He finished 10th in the men’s 8K race at the SSAC Championships with a personal best time of 26:30.12 which was the fourth fastest mark in school history. It was the third time Freese cracked the school’s all-time top 10 list. The junior from New Orleans earned SSAC All-Conference honors for his 10th place finish. Freese has rebounded from an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, which kept him from finishing the 2012 SSAC Championship. He also missed the opening meet of the 2013 season as part of his comeback from injury. Freese returned to full strength at the Crimson Classic with a 27:53 time before besting that mark with a 26:53 time at the Sand Shark Invitational.
“The injuries have been incredibly disappointing when they happen and undoubtedly have had a negative impact on my potential this season,” said Freese. “Recovering from them gives me a sense of urgency to work in practice and in races. I suffered an injury at the worst possible time last season, and I did not want to allow it to keep me from accomplishing my goals for a second year in a row.”
This will be the first time Loyola has sent four or more runners to NAIA Nationals since 2004. Coach Canegitta believes this year’s group could run some of the school’s best times at the event. “Paul set a personal best, but he still hasn’t hit his peak yet. He is working hard and has the potential to set another personal record at Nationals. Annie, Francesca, and Kennedi have been running as a pack throughout the year and will look to run together at Nationals. The top five times in school history belong to these three girls and our main goal remains improving every time we take the course,” said Canegitta.
Stephanie LeGleu holds the top mark for a Loyola woman at nationals when she ran 20:12 in 2001. Sean Fitzwilliam posted a time of 26:08 in 2009 to set the men’s 8K record for Nationals.