Hannibal-LaGrange runners Bailey Wagner and Lauren Sisco may come from small towns, but they expect to do big things at the NAIA National Cross Country Meet.

Bailey Wagner crossed the finish line at the American Midwest Conference cross country championships and went into a state of disbelief.

The Hannibal-LaGrange sophomore finished sixth overall with a personal record 5K time of 19:46 to qualify for the NAIA National Meet.

The Willow Springs, Mo., native admits she never saw this opportunity coming.

“To know that I came from a little small town, you never would have thought I would have this opportunity,” she said, referencing her southern Missouri hometown with a population of approximately 2,000. “Just to think that I made it, I would never have guessed it, ever. But to have this is pretty big.”

Lady Trojans freshman Lauren Sisco feels much the same. Sisco, who hails from Alton, Mo., population 800, placed 11th in 20:02 at the AMC finals to punch her ticket to nationals alongside Wagner.

The national championships are scheduled for Nov. 18 in Vancouver, Wa. 

“It's a huge honor to go and I'm grateful we have this opportunity to compete there,” Sisco said. “I'm excited because I've never been on a plane before or to Washington, so it'll be a neat experience. I don't really know what to expect. It hasn't sunk in yet.”

The pair of runners are the first from HLGU to qualify for nationals since Kristen Garwood, who was the 2016 track and field distance running national champion.

Third-year HLGU coach Andy Lemons mentioned Wagner and Sisco have followed the recipe to be successful in his program. 

“It's just real exciting to see where they were and where they are now,” Lemons said. “Even though you are a small town kid from a small school program, that doesn't mean you can't be as good as everyone else and have these opportunities.” 

Wagner has been a model of progress over the course of her collegiate career. Hours upon hours of training paid dividends last Friday, when she chopped 40 seconds off her PR at the AMC finals.

The sophomore, who was the only girl on the cross country team at Willow Springs High School, credits Lemons and her Lady Trojans teammates for helping her reach nationals.

“I have just felt so much stronger with coach Lemons because we implement weight training with the right amount of distance and speed, and I feel like he really cares about how we do,” she said. 

Wagner's expectations for the national meet are simple. 

“I want to run what I've ran all year if not a little better,” she said. “It's hard to peak twice, and I think that I did peak at conference because that was my personal record ever. It's going to be hard to beat that again, but I would love to get close, so that's my goal for the national meet.”

Sisco burst onto the scene as a freshman to run 19:55 in her first 5K of the fall at the Southern Stampede.

“I've improved a lot,” the newcomer said. “Coming into the season, I was expecting to run 20:30 at the fastest and then I PRed my first race at 19:55 and it was a huge shock to me.”

Her success hasn't surprised her coach, however. 

“We knew she was a pretty special one,” Lemons said of Sisco. “I could just tell from watching her. She has a really nice stride. I knew she was going to be special, but I didn't know it was going to happen so quickly.”