Northern Kentucky has only been a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference since 2012, but has had multiple student-athletes push for top A-Sun honors. J.J. Webber of the Norse’s Men’s Cross Country team is a prime example of NKU’s student-athletes using drive and determination to reach the top of the A-Sun record books.
“Compared to last year, I just feel more experienced. The training has been harder and the benefits are showing by running faster and longer,” mentioned Webber of his cross country season.
The Liberty Township, Ohio native was not always the top runner for Northern Kentucky. Before coming into the program, Webber did not stand out amongst his teammates. Many of them outran Webber on the course.
“Many of J.J.’s NKU teammates came from the same areas, Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Southeast Indiana, and were beating him or keeping up with him in high school,” said head coach Steve Kruse. “J.J. was good in high school, but once he changed his training at the college level, it has been miraculous.”
Webber and his classmates stuck with Northern Kentucky through the transition from D-II to D-I and Kruse saw a transformation in Webber as the NKU Cross Country program made the divisional jump in the NCAA.
“It has been fun to coach. To see J.J. go from an All-Region runner at the Division II level to where he is today, it is a great transition,” stated Kruse. “I take my hats off to not only J.J., but the rest of the upperclassmen who stuck with the program. It has been a true joy to watch this team grow.”
As a team, Northern Kentucky finished second out of the eight teams in the 2014 A-Sun Championship, exceeding everyone’s expectations.
“The team chemistry on this year’s squad is amazing,” said Kruse. “I am truly proud of how far each runner has come.”
Webber ended his A-Sun Cross Country career as the seventh student-athlete in A-Sun history to win back-to-back individual championships. The last runner to complete the feat was USC Upstate’s Gilbert Kemboi who won three years in a row between 2010 and 2012.
“It went as planned, but the team performed so well. It is a great feeling,” Webber said after the race. “I wanted to keep pace in the first mile and then pull away after that.”
Webber almost set a personal record at the A-Sun Cross Country Championship, on a course many coaches deemed to be too difficult to set any records. The NKU senior went out in winning fashion.