Life University officially announced on July 3 that it was resurrecting its women’s cross country program following a 10-year hiatus and Faust, as the team’s newly minted head coach, was immediately seeking student-athletes to try out and earn scholarships for the fledgling program, which was set to begin intercollegiate competition in the fall of 2012.
Things didn’t go quite so well in the beginning.
“It was incredibly late in the process,” said Faust, a five-time track and field and cross country all-American and the current director of the Sports Health Science master’s program at Life. “The University started the program in July, and most student-athletes had already committed, so to sign runners that month was difficult.”
Faust did, however, receive some interest from currently enrolled students and some looking to transfer. Unfortunately, many of them were unable to make it through the NAIA clearinghouse.
“That was tough,” Faust said. “As word got out, I had a lot of girls interested, and just enough to field a full team. But, I couldn’t get a lot them through the NAIA. It was just the timing of it all.”
Faust ended up getting three runners through the clearinghouse, including former Allatoona runner Annie Diaz. Her other student-athletes were Mishea Peltier and Anika Dion.
“We got Annie who came in as a freshman and trained with Mishea and Anika,” Faust said. “We redshirted Annie, but our other girls were able to run for us.”
In a surprising turn, Peltier and Dion not only ran for Life, they were highly successful in doing so. In the four regular season meets the duo competed in, Peltier finished first, second, first and first, while Dion placed third, seventh, 18th – due to illness – and fourth.
Not bad for a team that hadn’t competed collegiately for 10 years.
“It’s phenomenal to think we had such great production from them right from the start,” Faust said. “I was very impressed with their work ethic and commitment, and we were lucky to put it all together. They were limited in their base initially, but we made the most of it. We were very smart with their training and recovery and use of the school’s chiropractic care.”
Peltier and Dion, who are both junior biology majors at Life, ran cross-country in high school.
Peltier, who is from Ohio, attended Eastern Kentucky before transferring to Life in the spring of 2012. Dion, who hails from Indiana, went to Ball State, but transferred to Life last year.
Both women remained recreational runners beyond their time in high school and didn’t compete collegiately until joining Life’s program.
“I just found them on campus,” Faust said. “We needed a team of runners, and they decided to join. They’re juniors academically, but freshmen athletically.”
Peltier’s 5K victories included wins in the small college race at the Great American Cross Country festival in Cary, N.C. and the non-Division I category at the Choctaw Open in Clinton, Miss., where Life placed fourth out of 35 teams and 166 competitors.
Peltier’s best performance, however occurred at the TransSouth Conference championship in Jackson, Tenn., which she won in a personal best time of 19 minutes, 12 seconds to earn an automatic trip to the NAIA national meet in Vancouver, Wash.
Dion, unfortunately, missed out on a berth to nationals, placing fourth overall and just outside the top three automatic qualifiers. Peltier was named the conference runner and newcomer of the year and garnered all-conference honors, while Dion was named to the all-conference team as well.
Peltier went on to place 41st out of 320 runners at nationals and set a new personal best of 18:46.
“It took a lot of convincing from coach just for me to join,” Peltier said. “I just wanted to do my own thing, but eventually she talked me into it, and I haven’t regretted it since.”
Peltier explained that she had no intention on signing up for cross-country. Looking to get involved with a club organization at Life, someone from athletics asked if she was a runner. After explaining her background to the representative, Peltier put her name and number down on a different club form. However, the athletics representative slipped the information to Dr. Faust, and the rest is history.
Peltier even helped recruit Dion to the team, whom she met and befriended in cycling class.
“It took a lot of hard work and balancing running and school,” Peltier said. “Whatever coach told me to do, I did. I had the mindset all season that I wasn’t going to fail. I was going to win every race and make it to nationals. This amount of success was something I never expected.”