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Hastings College’s Shania Santos competes in the Bronco Stampede Saturday at Lake Hastings.

Like Aretha Franklin or Rodney Dangerfield, the Hastings College women’s cross country team felt they weren’t getting the respect they deserve.

Throughout the season, the Broncos kept excelling on race courses across the region despite not seeing that success recognized in the NAIA top 25 poll.

But the HC girls kept running, and kept running, knowing they could really make their mark in the Great Plains Athletic Conference race on Nov. 6.

Now, after a runner-up finish and an individual GPAC championship performance by its top runner, Hastings finally cracked into the top 25, and it was rewarded with a national tournament berth.

“We had been talking, leading up to GPAC, that we really weren’t getting the respect we really thought we deserved in the polls,” said HC head coach Ryan Mahoney. “We talked about how we really needed to get top two at conference. I thought we ran really well, for the most part.”

The Broncos will compete in the NAIA national meet Friday in Vancouver, Washington.

HC’s top five finishers at the GPAC meet are freshmen when it comes to eligibility — because of last year’s ruling regarding competition during the COVID-19 pandemic; academically, the five are still a mix of freshmen and sophomores.

Eleven of the top 39 runners in the conference meet were freshmen, and five of them were Broncos.

One of those freshmen is Shania Santos, who became Hastings College’s first-ever GPAC champion.

“That was her goal. She was so nervous all week. I think it was maybe two days before conference I grabbed her and said, ‘Hey, you have to relax a little bit. Enjoy the moment and have fun. You’re so tense and so tight.’ And she said, ‘I always get like this before big meets.’ “ Mahoney said. “She really put together a good race at the conference meet. I was so proud of her and excited for her because I know that’s something she really wanted.”

Mahoney said Santos grabbed her phone and called her family in Arizona almost right after the GPAC race, telling them that she had just claimed the spot as the conference’s best runner.

The coach said it’s moments like those that make a coach proud to be a part of an athlete’s success.

Another performance that made Mahoney especially proud was that of Madison Gerken, who finished the conference race in fourth place, proving to be crucial as she surpassed several runners from Morningside along the way.

The Broncos edged out the Mustangs by two in the team race to take second.

“Madison Gerken really stepped up,” Mahoney said. “Morningside, their top three ran phenomenal...I told Madison, ‘Hey, this race is really with Morningside,’ and she moved up about 10 positions over the last 2K and ran down some of those Morningside girls, which really allowed us to defeat them. That was exciting.”

Gerken and Veronica Pinkerton are the only Broncos with national meet experience after qualifying last year. But last year’s race was in the spring, between indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.

Without proper training for the cross country race — because the pair had been training for their middle distance races on the track — Gerken and Pinkerton focused on enjoying the experience of competing at the national stage.

But this season has been different; the Broncos have been competing all year for the right to compete at the national meet. And now, they’ll have that chance on Friday.

“This whole experience of having a successful team trying to get to nationals and now being at nationals, none of these ladies have done that before,” Mahoney said. “It’s exciting to see in their eyes just how everything is all new to them. As a coach, that’s something you have to consider and worry about, but it’s also fun to see their energy and enthusiasm for everything.”

As for the reigning GPAC champion, Mahoney said Santos has high goals for the national race.

“Here at nationals, her goal is to try to be an All-American, and she knows she’s kind of right on the bubble for that. She has to finish in the top 40, and she’s going to have to run a really good race,” the coach said. “She knows she could run great and everyone else runs great too and then she doesn’t make it. But she’s just going to go out there and give it a shot and see if she can get that top-40 finish.”

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