Shrine alum Ben Kendell blazes new cross country trails at Detroit Mercy

Ben Kendell, a Huntington Woods resident and cross country runner at the University of Detroit Mercy, leads the pack midway through a regional race this year. Kendell placed second at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, and finished in the top 100 runners in the NCAA Division 1 national championship meet. (Photos courtesy of Detroit Mercy Sports Information)

DETROIT — As one of the most-decorated distance runners in University of Detroit Mercy history, Ben Kendell’s list of unfulfilled accomplishments seemed pretty short this fall.

Still, the Huntington Woods resident tacked on a few more highlights in a vigorous finish to his cross-country career. He won the Horizon League’s individual championship, placed second at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional, and qualified for the NCAA Division 1 national championship, where he finished among the top 100 runners.

Each of those feats set new benchmarks for the Detroit Mercy program. When Kendell won the Horizon League meet on Oct. 27, he was the first Titan to do so. At the regional race in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 9, he had the best finish by a Horizon League runner since 2008 and became the Titans’ first male qualifier for the national meet.

“I’ve been second at Horizon Leagues a couple of times (in 2015 and 2016), so I was happy to get a championship there,” Kendall said. “Getting second (at the regional) was huge for me. I didn’t expect to be where I was, but it was really awesome. It was cool to be the first guy cross country runner at nationals, and particularly with the Horizon League. It was cool to show even the Horizon League was able to compete with the big dogs.”

And at the national meet on Nov. 17 in Madison, Wis. — with three inches of snow on the ground — Kendell finished the campaign with a school record of 30:34 for 10,000 meters. He placed 95th.

Ben Kendell runs in the NCAA Division 1 national championship meet, where he set a school record and placed 95th in the country. 

“Overall, it was a really fun experience at nationals,” he said. “I was going out so hard and I was surrounded by the best runners in the country, so it was a humbling experience. But I knew I was going in good shape and in good condition, and there were so many good runners to run with.”

Incidentally, one of those was Air Force Academy’s Mickey Davey — one of Kendell’s CYO teammates at Royal Oak Shrine Academy. Davey finished 11 seconds ahead of Kendell, so it meant that two out of the three Michigan-reared runners finishing among the top 100 of the race had local roots.

Kendell credits his Catholic school upbringing as helping shape his success as a collegiate student-athlete.

“I think that there is a lot of discipline that I was taught through the Shrine system and that has really helped, as well as the rigorous course-load that I was taking through high school,” he said. “Those were key, since I was able to carry it through college.”

Kendell, who will graduate in May with a master’s degree in engineering, was named the Horizon League’s Fall Scholar-Athlete of the Season on Dec. 6.

“What a lot of people may not realize about Ben is he’s done all his running while he’s been a 4.0 student in engineering, and his ability to manage both is one of his best qualities,” Titans coach Guy Murray said.  

“For many students, it’s their running career or their academic career, and I know he’s going to get the bulk of the work done. He’s prepared for the race; it’s a matter of going out there and executing the plan,” Murray added. “Ben does his homework about the details of each race and it helps everybody be invested and see what they can do. Ben’s optimistic and he’s always had the courage to race. He’s had big ambitions.”

Ben Kendell, left, receives his medal for the regional cross country meet. 

College coaches might have overlooked Ben when his father’s job transfer took the entire family to Turin, Italy, midway through his junior year of high school. But Ben continued to train hard while in Europe, and Murray kept in close contact with the Kendells, who were longtime friends.

Both of Ben’s parents were Titan athletes in the 1980s, with Bill as a fencer and Michelle as a track and cross-country runner. And the family ties go deeper: Ben’s sister, Claire, was the top runner on the Detroit Mercy women’s team this fall. A younger sister, Ellie, placed third in the state finals this fall as a junior at Shrine.

Kendell gets just as excited about his siblings’ success.

“I definitely enjoy sharing this college experience with Claire. We hadn’t been on the same team in a while — since junior high,” he said. “It’s great, as well, seeing Ellie come through in her own way. It’s been really exciting to see them excel at something I’m really passionate about.”