BILLINGS — Rocky Mountain College senior Jackson Wilson doesn’t like to lose and on Friday at the NAIA national cross country meet in Vancouver, Washington, that wasn’t an option.
With that kind of willpower and drive, Wilson is now an NAIA national champion.
Wilson, from Box Elder, South Dakota, earned the RMC cross country program’s first individual national championship with a time of 24:31.8 in the 8K race to capture first place by nine seconds.
“It was pretty exciting,” Wilson told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com by phone of winning the race. “I just knew if I could stay in there, in the top four, as long as I could that the last 1K I knew I could win it from there.”
Joseph Skoog of Bethel University (Tennessee) was second in 24:40.9. St. Mary’s (Kansas) Emad Bashir-Mohammed was third in 24:49.1.
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Wilson began the race behind the lead pack, crossing the 2K mark in 20th place a RMC press release detailed. In the next two kilometers, Wilson worked up to the front group, where he maintained a fourth-place position through the 6K checkpoint according to the RMC news release.
The group started to separate in the final two kilometers, as Wilson and Bashir-Mohammed emerged as the top two runners entering the race’s final kilometer. Wilson would then overtake the field to claim his national championship.
Rocky assistant coach Jackson Duffey said in the final 400 meters of the race Wilson “really made his move.”
“What stood out the most is how patient he ran the race,” Duffey said. “It never looked like he was in distress throughout the race. Every time he came around he was where he needed to be and he put himself in excellent position to win.”
It is Wilson’s third career All-American finish as he was 16th (24:34.3) at last year’s national championships in Tallahassee, Florida, and 14th (24:54.04) in 2020 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Wilson’s first-place finish is the new program best for RMC cross country. Sydney Little Light was second at the 2021 women’s cross country national meet and third in 2022.
“The program is super proud of him,” Duffey said of Wilson.
Wilson explained that his coaches and teammates have helped push him to new heights.
“There is a lot of different factors,” said Wilson of the keys to victory. “Having support from my teammates, family and friends and coaches, just a lot of backing.”
“Running in general it is very nice to have the team there and everyone to run with. It has been a great team I’ve been on these last five years.”
The buildup to being ready for the national meet was dedication during the regular season Wilson explained.
During the year, Wilson won his fourth consecutive conference crown, set a school-record 8K time, and was the NAIA Men’s Cross Country Runner of the Week, among other highlights. He was the first Rocky male athlete to ever earn the national runner of the week honor.
“Just working hard during the season and working with different teammates and pacing with them and making sure you do everything right during the season,” Wilson explained. “Just stay healthy and keep grinding.”
Duffey said when Wilson won the meet, the RMC team and supporters were ecstatic.
“It’s hard to put into words, just pure excitement,” said Duffey. “We’re super proud. He is super-well deserving of it. We were all going kind of going bananas when he turned the corner and was winning.”
Duffey said that Wilson has now “really upped the expectations at Rocky” with the championship. He explained that Wilson has a strong work ethic.
“He’s tough. He’s probably one of the toughest runners I’ve ever seen,” said Duffey. “He hates to lose, that’s for sure.”
Wilson said that to celebrate the win and season a game of Topgolf was planned.
“It will be something new and it will just be fun,” he said.
Winning the national championship was something Wilson had aimed for since his first year at RMC.
“It definitely started when I was a freshman,” Wilson said of realizing he wanted to win a national cross country crown. “I just wanted to work up there and be the best that I can be.”
Junior Justin Morgan of Montana Tech was 33rd in 25:31.9 to earn All-American honors. Morgan is from Thomson Falls.
The top 40 runners are All-Americans.
Overall, Rocky placed 18th with 476 points. Carroll College was 20th with 495 and Montana Tech was 25th with 572.
Milligan (Tennessee) claimed the national title with 93 points.
For the women, Montana Tech was 23rd with 603 points, Carroll was 25th with 659, and Rocky was 26th with 661. The national women's team champion was the College of Idaho with 68.
Tech junior Carlin Manning of Kalispell was 26th in 22:21.1 on the 6K course to earn All-American status.
Addy Wiley of Huntington (Indiana) was the women's national champion with a winning time of 21:04.2.
Email Gazette Sports Editor John Letasky at john.letas[email protected] or follow him on X/Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL