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Headed for the finish line: Cross-country races toward NCAA finals

Jon Lewis | Senior Sports Editor

Every year around this time, just as the weather starts to cool down, things begin to heat up for Washington University’s cross-country teams. Two weeks after both teams captured UAA titles in New Jersey, the Bears traveled to Rock Island, Ill. to compete in their penultimate race of the season—the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships.

“I think it went great,” head coach Jeff Stiles said after the women’s team took second and the men took third Saturday afternoon. “We still have more left in the tank, and that bodes well for next week.”

The women’s cross-country team poses in New Jersey after winning the UAA championship two weeks ago. The Bears competed at the Midwest Regional Championships this weekend.Courtesy of New York University

The women’s cross-country team poses in New Jersey after winning the UAA championship two weeks ago. The Bears competed at the Midwest Regional Championships this weekend.

The end of the season presents one of the most challenging turnarounds for the cross-country team. There are just seven days separating the regional championships from the national championship; and so, there is not much time to recover from one race to the next. Stiles said that this quick timeframe affects how his team approached regionals.

“It definitely affected how you ran,” he said. “Our trainings are definitely geared towards nationals. Our workouts are made with the mindset of next week as the goal.”

If Wash. U.’s runners were holding back to save themselves for the national championship, it did not show. Four women and two men finished within the top 25 in fields of 264 and 254, respectively.

For the women, the finishers were highlighted by sophomore Paige Lawler, who finished second with a time of 20:46.4, and senior Alison Lindsay, who finished in seventh with a time of 21:05.8. Lawlor’s second place was almost a photo finish; she crossed the finish line just five seconds after University of Chicago’s Khia Kurtenbach.

Wash. U.’s top finisher on the men’s side was senior David O’Gara, who came in fifth place place. O’Gara’s set a personal collegiate record in the 8-kilometer race, completing the course in 23:46.9.

Stiles said he was happy with how his team ran, especially considering the caliber of the field, which features both of the top two men’s cross-country teams in Division III—North Central University and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

“The men have the best region, and it’s probably not even close,” he said. “It is probably North Central’s race to lose at nationals.”

While the women qualified for nationals automatically with their second place finish on Saturday, the men had to wait until Sunday afternoon for confirmation of their at-large bid. With both teams now officially headed for nationals next weekend in Elsah, Ill., they now have one week to recover and prepare for the final race of the fall. Stiles said that he believes his team is not just physically but emotionally prepared to do just that because of the high standards they set.

“Kids all around the country ran the race of their lives just to get in [to nationals],” he said. “They’re on cloud nine, and have to turn around and run again next week. We had the expectation going in on making it; so, when we did it just kind of rolled off.”

Stiles added that he is looking forward to the final push ahead. “It’s a fun feeling to know you’re ready,” he said. “We’re tired—we’ll be more ready next week, but we’re ready to go.”