Both the men and women had strong performances at the Missouri Valley Conference Championship in Valparaiso, Indiana Saturday. The now five-time defending champion men’s team won in nearly perfect fashion, while the women placed second to only a vastly improved Loyola team.
The men sent the entire team to the front of the 8-kilometer, muddy course from the gun, with senior twin brothers Jake and Luke Hoffert taking the top two spots at 24:46.1 and 25:01, respectively.
Right behind them were freshman Matt Richtman in fourth, senior Ben Potrtykus in fifth and freshman Jack Franklin a few spots back in seventh. The Braves totaled 17 points, just two points back of a perfect score of 15.
“I’m really happy for our team,” head coach Darren Gauson said in a post-race interview for BradleyBraves.com. “We had the Athlete of the Year [Jake Hoffert], Freshman of the Year [Sophia McDonnell] and 17 points overall. Jake won it two years ago and has been great all season. Today highlighted his quality all season and what he has meant to this program.”
Jake Hoffert became the first Brave in school history to collect all-conference honors in all four years and the first to claim the individual crown twice.
For Luke Hoffert, the journey was a little more scattered. Injuries and past underwhelming performances were wiped away last year with a 12th place finish in the NCAA Midwest Regional Meet. He was the highest finisher on a Bradley team that took second place and earned a NCAA National Championship Meet berth.
At Valparaiso this past weekend Luke trailed his brother from the start, but kept up and finished strong for the Braves.
“When I made the last turn, I was just worried about someone catching me,” Luke said. “But I was so happy for Jake and it was just awesome to finish like that.”
Luke now sets his sights towards this year’s regional meet.
“I think a good goal for me is to be right around the place I was last year,” he said. “Conference was a good confidence booster for me.”
For the men, the race distance will change from 8-kilometers (4.97 miles) to 10-kilometers (6.21 miles) for the regional meet.
The women, although not as dominant as the men, still had a strong second-place performance.
Loyola attacked from the gun and bunched up as a team earlier in the 5-kilometer course, immediately putting the Braves on the defensive. The unconventional and risky tactic paid off as it came out on top with 17 points, a Valley record.
The Braves’ top three runners, McKenzie Altmayer (ninth, 18:38.4), Tyler Schwartz (10th, 18:41.2) and Ayah Aldadah (11th, 18:41.7) did not attempt to cover the move before the Ramblers got away, and it was too late.
The women’s race was run after the men’s. By that point, the muddy and soggy course was in even worse condition, eliminating any chance of record times being recorded.
“Obviously, things didn’t end the way we would have liked,” Aldadah said. “I still have confidence in our training, and I think even though it didn’t happen for us on the day, we’re still in a great place going to regionals.”
Between now and the regional meet in one week, the Braves cannot add any fitness. The team is focused on getting into the right mindset and being ready to compete.
“I think as long as we’re fresh heading into the regional meet, I do not see a reason why not we can be highly competitive,” Aldadah said.
The NCAA Midwest Regional Meet is 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at the home cross country course of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The top two male and female teams will earn spots to the NCAA National Championship eight days later.