NASHVILLE, Tenn.--Belmont Cross Country has just completed a season filled with several milestones for the program.
It was a season that contained a sweep at the Belmont Opener, several OVC Player of the Week honors, an OVC Freshman of the Year award, and two brothers competing together in the NCAA National Championship.
Not to mention that it was a year in which the Cross Country program received some sweet new threads from Under Armour.
There are several story lines that should be talked about this year, but to know how this year's story unfolds, we need to take it back to the first meet of the season for both teams, the Belmont Opener.
This meet in particular set the stage for what was to take place in the rest of the season.
Kortney Schardt set the tone for the women's side early on, as she was the first cross the finish line and was a full 2 seconds ahead of the second place finisher.
The rest of the girls followed suit, with three of Kortney's teammates, Courtney Alama, Claire Cheeseman, and Sierra Lax, cracking the top ten and winning the Women's 5K for Belmont.
The men's side was also able to claim victory at the Belmont Opener, with seven runners cracking the top ten in this race: Jacob McLeod, Kaleb McLeod, Kaden Eaton, Aidan Thompson, Declan McManus, Taylor Vroon, and Ben Williams.
Within that group, something absolutely incredible happened that foreshadowed what would happen later on in the season. Freshman Jacob McLeod and older brother, junior Kaleb McLeod would go on to finish No. 1 (Jacob McLeod) and No. 2 (Kaleb McLeod), but not only did they finish 1st and 2nd in the Belmont Opener. They also finished neck and neck with only 0.2 seconds separating the two of them. The McLeod Brothers would go on to do great things the rest of the season that will be discussed a little further in the article.
Jacob McLeod had an outstanding freshman year for Belmont Cross Country, as he consistently finished as Belmont's top finisher in each meet.
He took home an OVC Player of the Week award for his first place finish at the Belmont Opener, and after a ninth place finish at the Commodore Classic, a 6th place finish at the Louisville Classic, and a 28th place finish in which he was the fourth-fastest freshman competing, he was able to gain the attention of the Ohio Valley Conference and was announced this years recipient of the OVC Freshman of the Year Award.
Immediately after receiving the OVC Freshman of the Year Award, Jacob McLeod finished second individually in the OVC Championship 8K with a time of 24:07.2.
After seniors such as Jessica King and Halle Hausman left the year before, it was clear from the beginning who would be leading the Bruins on a consistent basis.
Kortney Schardt rose to the challenge this year and consistently lead the way for Belmont in each meet.
She started it off with a first place finish at the Belmont Opener, in which she finished with a time of 18:19.08.
She then finished 21st at the Commodore Classic in which she had a personal best time at the Percy Warner Park course of 18:04.9.
In her final 5K of the season, the Louisville Classic, she posted her best 5K time of the year, finishing with a time of 17:49.9.
Schardt then placed 5th at the OVC Championship while leading her team to a third place finish overall.
She then finished off the season finishing first among the Bruins at the NCAA South Regional (45th overall).
McLeod Brothers' Road to the NCAA Championship
It is no secret that Jacob McLeod had insurmountable success throughout the year, but it is important to note that his own brother, Kaleb McLeod, was right behind him in virtually every race throughout the year.
When Jacob McLeod placed first in the Belmont Opener, Kaleb McLeod placed second in a photo finish.
When Jacob McLeod placed 9th at the Commodore Classic, Kaleb McLeod placed 12th and was second among the Bruins.
When Jacob McLeod placed 6th at the Louisville Classic, Kaleb McLeod placed 11th and again was second among the Bruins.
Pre-Nationals was the first time all year in which Kaleb did not finish right behind his brother, Jacob; however right after Pre-Nationals, when Jacob McLeod placed 2nd at the OVC Championship, Kaleb McLeod was right back into the normal rhythm of the season, as he placed 5th and was yet again the second place finisher among the Belmont Bruins. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to detect the pattern at work here.
NCAA South Regional
The stage is then set for the NCAA South Regional. In order for the team to qualify for the NCAA National Championship, it would have to place in the top two out of the 24 teams competing in the meet, and in order for the individual to qualify, the runner would have to place in the top 5 overall or hope for an at-large bid.
The Bruins finished No. 4 overall. This was a very impressive finish considering there are several SEC and ACC schools competing in this region, but it was not enough to earn a spot in the National Championship.
However, Jacob McLeod was able to qualify automatically as an individual as he finished No. 4 overall in the meet. With this finish he became the first Bruin to compete in nationals since Matt Miller competed in it back in 2013.
But yet again, the pattern set throughout the season came into play.
When Jacob McLeod placed 4th in the NCAA South Regional, Kaleb McLeod placed 7th, and when the NCAA announced who would qualify to compete in Madison, Wis., Kaleb's name was called as an at-large qualifier.
The McLeod Brothers were able to compete together at the NCAA National Championship
The most notable comeback story out of the year for Belmont Cross Country was seeing senior Mattie Edwards compete this season after being forced to sit out for the remainder of last season's cross country campaign due to suffering from appendicitis and needing an appendectomy.
His first race back was at the Commodore Classic at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, in which he 21st overall and third among the Bruins.
He then had a top 20 finish at the Louisville Classic by finishing 17th overall and again at the OVC Championship, in which he finished 11th overall.
He ended the year by finishing third among the Bruins at the NCAA South Regional, in which he finished 23rd overall.
The Bruins have had one amazing season of running cross country that contained a sweep at the Belmont Opener, two runners that consistently lead each race for the Bruins, representation in the NCAA National Championship from two brothers who will both be back next season, and an incredible comeback story.
All in all, it was a good year for Belmont Cross Country, and with Kortney Schardt, Jacob McLeod, Kaleb McLeod, and several other key members returning, it will be a key season for the team to build on.
Special thanks to Caroline Daniel of the women's cross country team for putting this wonderful video together.