DAVENPORT - Just about anyone who lives in and around Anamosa has probably seen former Raider cross country and track stars Emma and Claire Duncan training in the area.
The Duncan’s, twin sisters who are now juniors at St. Ambrose University, worked tirelessly this past summer running through town in hopes there would actually be a collegiate cross country campaign for them to be a part of.
As it turned out, their wishes would come true.
“Honestly, I was surprised we were able to have a cross country season,” said Emma, who with her sister Claire helped the Fighting Bees to an NAIA national ranking and numerous team championships at meets this past fall.
“Claire and I trained as if there were going to be a season, and we never heard anything from the university or our coaches that there wasn’t going to be a cross country season this fall, but with COVID, you just never know. If there was going to be a season, we wanted to be ready.”
The twins moved back to school early to practice with the women’s program back in August, and while the 2020 season was delayed, the Duncan’s were once again huge contributors for a Fighting Bees team that finished third in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) meet Saturday, Nov. 7, hosted by St. Ambrose on their own Crow Creek Park course in Bettendorf.
“For us, just making it to the conference meet was a huge deal,” said Claire, who finished 35th overall against the star-studded conference field posting a time of 21-minutes, 31.9-seconds.
“We’re just happy to be competing, and I was happy with the way I ran at the conference meet. I think our overall team standing was pretty good, too. Our home course is a tough one with a lot of hills, and I think that gave us an edge over a lot of the other conference teams who were there. The only two teams that beat us are two of the best in the entire country at the NAIA level.”
St. Francis (Ill.), the second-ranked team in the nation, easily claimed the CCAC title scoring 19 points while St. Ambrose, ranked 25th, tallied 75 points to take third at the eight-team event. Olivet Nazarene (Ill.), ranked 14th nationally, was second totaling 68 points.
“Normally, when we have a meet in early November, it’s pretty cold. But that wasn’t the case Saturday,” said Emma, as temperatures soared into the 70s helping her to a solid 16th-place overall finish with a 19:57.2 clocking.
“It helped that it was pretty warm all week leading up to the conference meet, too, so it wasn’t a shock to our systems. Overall, this was a good way to end our season. We knew we were going to see some extremely tough competition here, and we got it, and I thought we all went out and performed well. For a year that a lot of us didn’t think was even going to happen, this was about as good as we could have hoped for.”
That year officially started back on Sept. 5, where the Duncan twins helped the Fighting Bees to a team title hosting a short course meet (4,000-meters) at Emeis Park in Davenport.
“For me, it was just nice to be able to race again,” said Emma, who started her 2020 campaign with an outstanding performance placing fourth overall with a time of 16:30 while Claire was fifth in 16:39.
“I hadn’t been in a competitive race for about nine months due to the stress fracture in my left leg. For me, things finally started to get back to normal. I was out and competing and didn’t have to wear a mask, at least for a little while. It felt amazing.”
The Fighting Bees cruised to the team title scoring a mere 18 points and answered the championship with another a week later hosting the first 5K of the season at Crow Creek Sept. 12.
“Coming into the season, I knew our team had a chance to be pretty good, but I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Claire, as the St. Ambrose women easily claimed another meet title with Emma taking fourth overall in 20:18.1 while Claire was 10th in 21:09.2.
“Those first three meets really gave us a lot of confidence going forward, but we knew we had tougher meets ahead.”
St. Ambrose made it a championship three-peat Sept. 26, claiming the top spot at another meet the program hosted at Crow Creek as the twins again turned in top-10 performances with Emma (20:12) crossing the finish line third overall while Claire (21:18) was ninth.
The first big meet of the 2020 campaign came on the Seminole Valley course Mount Mercy University hosted in Cedar Rapids Oct. 10.
“This meet was a lot different than the first three,” Emma said. “This was the first time we didn’t host a meet and it was the first time we went against a big field, too. There were more than 200 girls competing, so this one was a little more nerve racking, but it was nice to be on a different course and having some other girls to run with.”
Emma scored a 70th-place finish posting a time of 20:30.8 while Claire was 105th after her 21:18.7 clocking.
The St. Ambrose women made a return trip to Cedar Rapids and the Seminole Valley course Oct. 24, where the Fighting Bees topped an 11-team field scoring 78 points. Emma just missed a top-10 finishing taking 11th overall in 19:56.76 with Claire adding a 21:29.68 clocking, good enough to place 45th.
“I thought this was my best meet of the entire season,” Emma said. “Seminole Valley is a pretty flat course and I was able to get out and run a good race.”
With their third-place finish at the conference meet this past Saturday, the St. Ambrose programs now waits to hear from the NAIA if they did enough to earn a bid to Nationals, which will be held next spring most likely back on the Seminole Valley course in Cedar Rapids.
“I think we’ve got a good shot,” Claire said. “We’re nationally ranked, and that will help us. Now we just need to keep training and be ready for an indoor track season that hopefully we’ll be able to have this winter.”