Cross country overcomes rain and lightning at Brooks Invitational
Heavy rain and lightning may not seem conducive to long-distance running, but facing those conditions Saturday in Oskhosh, Wis., the Washington University cross-country team scored a breakthrough performance.
Sophomore Lucy Cheadle finished third out of 500 runners on the women’s side, and five Wash. U. men’s runners placed in the top 50 at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational. The men’s team finished fourth out of 38 and the women were sixth out of 37 in what head coach Jeff Stiles emphatically described as the squad’s best meet of the year.
The Bears ran through 30-40 mph winds in last year’s Brooks Invitational, but in this year’s meet, the wind difficulties were less serious compared to other weather issues.
“There were four lightning delays, it was 40 degrees and raining…it rained for like nine straight hours,” Stiles said. “It was crazy conditions and a lot of reasons to not run well—our team ran really well. It was pretty impressive.”
North Central College head coach Al Carius, who has been at the school since 1966, told Stiles that he’d never seen a lightning delay in his 47 years of coaching. The women’s 6K race started only two minutes after the men’s 8K race as a result of the unprecedented zany weather.
“I personally love those conditions,” sophomore Ryan Senci said. “The rainier and windier it gets, the better off I think we run as a team.”
“It was definitely intimidating before the race to think about [the weather], but Coach Stiles reiterated that we just need to have fun and really enjoy ourselves while we were out there,” freshman Ellen Toennies said.
Toennies finished 41st overall with a time of 23:07.81. She was second to Cheadle (21:35.41) among Wash. U. runners. Junior Lizzy Handschy clocked in at 23:20.75 to place 56th, followed by freshman Bri Tiffany (60th, 23:23.21) and sophomore Beatrice Gantzer (70th, 23:27.67).
On the men’s side, junior Kevin Sparks finished ninth out of 506 runners with a time of 25:21.30. Sophomore Drew Padgett was close behind at 16th (25:31.16), and senior David Hamm checked in at 26th (25:39.95). Senci (38th, 25:55.67) and sophomore Garrett Patrick (43rd, 25:58.14) completed the Bears’ top five.
The small time spread between scoring runners for both the men’s and women’s teams thrilled Stiles. Toennies and Gantzer, the No. 2 and No. 5 female runners, respectively, finished less than 20 seconds apart. For the men, No. 1 runner Sparks was only 37 seconds ahead of No. 5 runner Patrick. The men’s time differential at the Sept. 29 Greater Louisville Classic was nearly triple those 37 seconds.
“That’s how we’re going to score the least points when it comes to championship season,” said Senci, referring to the limited spread.
The men’s team, ranked No. 3 nationally, and the women’s team, ranked No. 6, both finished behind several schools ranked below them; however, Stiles was not discouraged by that fact, calling the rankings “garbage” and an inaccurate reflection of the Division III cross-country landscape. He also said that this year’s field might be stronger than last year’s, when the women’s team won the national championship and the men finished third.
“It was our best meet of the year by far,” Stiles said.
The women’s team welcomed back sophomore Grace Bridwell, who raced for the first time since last year’s national championship meet. Bridwell was the No. 7 runner on the 2011 squad.
However, junior Sarah Fisher, one of the team’s top runners, could miss the remainder of the season as she rehabs from a fractured hip.
Although they may not attain last year’s heights, the Bears are confident heading into their postseason races, which start with the University Athletic Association championships on Oct. 27.
“We definitely have the pieces to put together another outstanding run this season,” Toennies said.