INDIANAPOLIS – After both earned medalist honors at the Horizon League Championships, Loyola senior Gina Valgoi (Detroit, Mich.) and sophomore Sam Penzenstadler (Oshkosh, Wis.) have been named the Cross Country Athletes of the Year.
Valgoi put together a dominating performance at the Horizon League Championship in late October, running away with the individual title and earning first-team All-Horizon League honors. Her 17:05 time was nearly a full minute faster than her closest competitor and was just four seconds shy of the Wayne E. Dannehl Championship Cross Country Course record in the 5K. A week later, Valgoi led the Ramblers to an 11th-place finish at the Midwest Regional, finishing in sixth place individually. That result garnered the senior a chance to run in the NCAA National Championship in Louisville, Ky.
She became the first female from Loyola to ever qualify for the National Championship. On Saturday, Nov. 17, Valgoi placed 104th in the nation with a time of 20:50, the second-fastest 6K race of her career.
"This experience has made me realize how truly blessed I am," Valgoi told loyolaramblers.com after the National Championship. "It was the best possible way to end my collegiate career. Of course a top-40 finish [to garner All-American honors] would have been incredible, but I am proud of what I have accomplished. I am so thankful to Loyola, my coaches and my teammates for their support. I would not have been this successful without them."
Running in his native Wisconsin, Penzenstadler took the 8K individual title at the Horizon League Championship with a time of 24:59, just five seconds ahead of teammate and individual runner-up Jake Autio. Penzenstadler also paced the Ramblers at the Midwest Regional, finishing the 10K course in 31:26, finishing 43rd overall.
In addition to winning medalist honors at the Horizon League Championship and being named the Cross Country Athletes of the Year, Valgoi and Penzenstadler were both honored on Sept. 17 as the Runners of the Week.
Both runners are now preparing for the indoor track season. Loyola next runs on Jan. 12 at the Iowa New Year’s Classic.