Herd Media

Lipscomb women’s cross-country: The quiet making of a dynasty

The women at Cross Country NCAA South Regional. Cat Wofford/Photographer

At Lipscomb, the growing success of men’s soccer and the longtime strength of basketball have brought money and recognition to the University.

But what about the sports that don’t necessarily draw crowds or make money?

The so-called non-revenue sports?

Fueled by recent success, the Lady Bisons cross-country team is looking to break a norm and get its taste of recognition.

If you haven’t been paying attention, the Bison women have been rewriting chapters in school record books every meet for the past two years. It has won the last two Atlantic Sun cross-country championships, completing the 2023 edition with a perfect score (meaning its runners were the first five finishers in the meet) in front of a home crowd at Percy Warner Park.

No ASUN team had previously ever set a perfect score in the championship race. Only one other team in the country, Northern Arizona, which finished second at the NCAA Cross-Country Championships, had a perfect score at its conference meet.

Women at ASUN Championships
The Lipscomb Women’s XC team celebrating its second straight ASUN title (courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics)

Lipscomb’s women would also go on to the championship meet and would end its historic season with a monumental 11th-place finish. Senior, Lydia Miller led the way with a 38th-place finish, earning All-American honors for the first time in program history. It was the crowning moment for the team, but this success did not happen overnight.

When head coach Nick Polk stepped on campus before the 2019 season, says he “always had the goal of bringing the program to its first Cross-Country Championship appearance, but the success arrived earlier than he anticipated.”

“Internally for the ladies, we had talked about fall of 2025 being the season we made the national meet.”

Polk continued to say he “wasn’t sure what this class (2020 and 2021) of girls was capable of when we recruited them, but their goals and desires expanded, and we got to where we needed to be a year earlier.”

According to Polk, the big indicator that the Lady Bisons could accomplish great things came during the outdoor track season. The women’s 5k group ranked as the twelfth-best squad in the nation. An event group ranking in the longer distances usually indicates what your team can do for the following cross-country season.

The leader of the 5k group was Lydia Miller. Miller posted a school record mark of 15:52.2, which was good enough for her to make the regional meet and then eventually qualify for the 2023 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships as an individual. Miller also made the Cross-Country National Championship as an individual during the 2022 season.

Miller at the 2023 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships (courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics)

The following year would mean much more to her as she was able to share a Nationals appearance with her best friends.

Miller, a senior nursing major from Worthington, Ohio, said, “Last year felt almost anti-climactic, it was just me there. I didn’t have any higher goals.”

“Being there with six other girls doesn’t just affect me. It gave me more motivation to run hard and compete so the team can have a good day. Knowing that the other girls were counting on me made it so much easier to push through the pain.”

Kiara Carter, a junior exercise science major from Nolensville, Tennessee, did not expect to be in this situation. She came in as a more track-focused athlete, yet through great coaching and hard work, she has blossomed into a cross-country star. She won the ASUN cross-country championship and says she has loved being able to help the team turn into a national powerhouse.

Carter stated that her cross-country origins were “sort of a happy accident” that she’s at Lipscomb.

She said she feels “so blessed to have such great coaches and be a part of a great team that has helped me grow and display such range as an athlete.”

WXC at Nationals
(Left to right) Sophomore Eleanor Brewer, Freshman Harley Kletz, and Carter taking a stride before the national meet (courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics)

Another big part of the team has been junior captain, Mackenzie Barnett, an education major from Columbus, Indiana. Barnett led the team at the Nuttycombe Invitational and had a big race at the national meet (81st overall) to help the team land its 11th place finish.

Barnett stated, “It’s been amazing to see how the team has grown. Everyone is friends with each other.”

“While we’ve grown as competitors, we’ve grown even more spiritually, and it’s been very cool to see.”

Barnett said she will never forget the moment when the team found out they finished 11th at the national meet.

“The happiness and excitement from all of the girls and our coaches was such a great feeling, and we were so grateful for everyone who had helped us get there to that moment.”

Coach Polk says, “It has been a privilege to watch the girls grow in their abilities and ambitions.”

As for the following season, the goal is simple: improve from last year. The Lipscomb ladies return almost their entire top seven from 2023.

Cross-country may still be a non-revenue sport, but word does get around. The more the Lady Bisons’ win, the bigger their profile grows.