Grace Spoonhour never let off the gas. 

After a stellar high school cross country and track season at Charleston High School, a freshman at Heartland Community College capped off her first collegiate season with All-American honors and a national runner-up finish. 

At the NJCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, Spoonhour ran the 5,000-meter course at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, Virginia in 19:52.1. Her 18th place was just outside the top-15, which is what the NJCAA recognized as All-American; however, since Spoonhour finished in the top-25 at nationals, she is recognized as an All-American by the U.S. Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). 

“I was proud of myself for staying consistent throughout my race and being able to finish 18th overall,” said Spoonhour. 

As a team, Heartland finished as the nation’s runner-up. Heartland was defeated by Lansing College by just 16 points, while Heartland beat out third-place finisher Mesa by 13 points. Natalie Garneau, a freshman out of Downs Tri-Valley, represented Heartland on the NJCAA All-American list by receiving Second-Team honors with her eighth-place overall finish. 

Heartland qualified for nationals after winning the Region 24 Meet, which was held on the Panther Trail at Eastern Illinois University. 

“I am so proud of our team for getting second in nationals,” said Spoonhour. “We all went into the race prepared and did our best for that day. We trained hard all season and it definitely paid off in the end.” 

Spoonhour said that the offseason after her track season was a brand new level of training, which is what prepared her for success this past fall cross country season. 

“Collegiate running has a different level of intensity than high school running,” said Spoonhour. “I think the main reason that I improved was the higher mileage and more intense speed workouts. Strength training was another thing that made me stronger and helped with my overall performance.”

Five of the top seven runners are freshmen, so Spoonhour is hopeful that next year the team can compete for the national championship.  

“We will have a few girls returning next year and already have some girls that have committed as well,” said Spoonhour. “I think that we all would love to win a national title, but will have to work hard to achieve that goal.”