Cross country teams coast into nationals at Midwest Regionals
By finishing in the top two of their respective races at the NCAA Midwest Regional Saturday, the Washington University men’s and women’s cross-country teams clinched berths in the NCAA championship meet on Nov. 19.
The No. 2 women’s team cruised to first place in a field of 38 on the 6K course in Rock Island, Ill. Seniors Erica Jackey and Liz Phillips (21:53.8) crossed the finish line in virtual lockstep to claim second and third place overall. Freshman Lucy Cheadle (21:55.4) was close behind in fourth, followed by sophomore Sarah Fisher (22:00.4), the sixth place finisher, and senior Molly Wawrzyniak (22:08.8), who placed ninth.
The No. 3 men’s team was topped by only No. 1 North Central in its 39-team 8K race. Senior Michael Burnstein (24:54.9) notched second place by edging Wisconsin-Stout’s Tim Nelson, who was the sole runner out of 434 to defeat Burnstein at the Brooks Oshkosh Invitational on Oct. 15.
The men finished 72 points behind North Central but scored 22 points higher than No. 8 Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Junior David Hamm (10th place, 25:15.4) and senior Tucker Hartley (19th place, 25:28.9) cracked the top 20 in a 277-person race.
No competitors came remotely close to the women’s team, which outdistanced No. 7 Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the second-place team, by nearly 100 points.
According to Hamm, watching the women’s team dominate excited the men’s team. Head coach Jeff Stiles told his male runners to remain patient at the start of their race. The strategy worked perfectly, according to Hamm.
Freshman Ryan Senci (40th place, 25:53.0) and sophomore Caleb Ford (43rd place, 25:57.1) rounded out the Bears’ top five.
“We’ve had a lot of freshmen and sophomores really start stepping it up towards the later meets,” Hamm said. “I know Ryan Senci has just been really coming on strong. Caleb Ford wasn’t feeling as good midseason, but in the last couple of weeks, he’s been just exponentially improving. Everyone seems to be going in the right direction.”
The full men’s and women’s squads came out to support the 14 competing Bears, shouting words of encouragement throughout both races and breaking into chants of “ole, ole.”
“It was crazy,” Fisher said. “Everyone was dressed up in body paint and crazy outfits. Even though it was cold, they were hardly wearing any clothes.”
The race was a bounce-back of sorts for Phillips, the Bears’ top runner in the first month of the season, who finished fifth and third among her teammates in the two most recent meets. Because of her return to form, Jackey’s emergence and Cheadle’s continuing improvement, the Bears boast a formidable top three heading into the NCAA National Championship in Oshkosh, Wis., the meet they have set their sights on the whole year.
The Bears are also deep—Fisher has consistently held down a top five spot all season long, and Wawrzyniak has been a top five Bear in all but one race. The Red and Green’s sixth and seventh runners, senior Jessica Londeree and freshman Grace Bridwell, both finished in the top 20 out of 264 at regionals.
The Bears will finally face some stiffer competition at nationals, where they hope to upset No. 1 Williams College.
“We haven’t been nervous for our team all season, and it’s not just because [success] has gone to our heads,” Fisher said. “We just trust each other because we’ve been working so hard together, and it all comes together during the race.”
Both teams are confident that their training throughout the season has prepared them for the upcoming weekend.
“We don’t want to change anything this week just because it’s nationals,” Hamm said. “We want to keep everything that’s been working all season and carry that into nationals. And hopefully, if everything goes as planned, we [can] be up there in the top three, top four.”