Men’s cross-country claims third straight UAA title

Two individual titles and one team title highlighted the Washington University cross-country program’s performance at the University Athletic Association Championship Saturday in Rochester, N.Y.

Junior Kevin Sparks finished first overall and led the men’s team to its third consecutive conference championship. Sophomore Lucy Cheadle dominated her UAA competition for the fourth-place women’s team, winning the 6K race by more than 30 seconds.

“Individually, both Kevin [Sparks] and Lucy [Cheadle] ran great races,” head coach Jeff Stiles said. “They were both patient and beat some solid competitors.”

Cheadle maintained her speed despite lacking a pack of surrounding runners to push her.

“I kind of decided early on in the race that I just wanted to run at my own pace and not…wait for other people to make a move,” Cheadle said. “I just kind of went, and once you make a decision like that, you don’t want to go out hard and get caught. What kind of motivates me is my teammates, and they’re all working so hard, and I don’t want to let them down just getting beat.”

The No. 10 men’s squad edged New York University by eight points (52-60) in the 8K race, with its five scoring runners all finishing in the top 20. Senior David Hamm placed sixth (25:20.3) to join Sparks (25:02.5) in the top 10. Sparks and Hamm, both of whom earned all-UAA first team honors, were followed by sophomores Andrew Padgett (12th, 25:41.3), Garrett Patrick (15th, 25:47.0) and Ryan Senci (18th, 25:49.8). For his top-14 position, Padgett was named to the all-UAA second team.

Looking to defend their back-to-back titles, the Bears came into the meet with a poised mentality, Sparks said.

“You kind of have to take a different attitude coming in that way as opposed to the last couple years when you’re still getting used to that top spot, and you feel like you’re kind of the underdog,” he said.

Sparks and Senci finished only 47 seconds apart, giving the Bears a small time spread among their top five runners for the second straight meet. Setting aside Cheadle’s breakneck 21:26.8 pace, the No. 27 women’s team also stuck close together. Junior Lizzy Handschy (22:59.4) and freshman Bri Tiffany (23:00.0) crossed the finish line in lockstep to place 19th and 20th, respectively. Junior Kathleen Valadez (31st, 23:21.5) and freshman Ellen Toennies (36th, 23:29.4) rounded out the top five.

The University of Chicago won the women’s team championship with a miniscule score of 37, followed by New York University (96) and Carnegie Mellon (103), who narrowly defeated the Bears’ score of 105.

“I was really happy with the way we moved up in both races,” Stiles said. “On the men’s side, we were losing to NYU until the last mile, when we really competed well. I was very proud of both teams.”

The UAA Championships prepared the team for the Nov. 10 NCAA Midwest Regional, which determines the teams that can compete in the Nov. 17 NCAA championships.

The Midwest Regional will be hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh on the same course that endured torrential rain and multiple lightning delays two weekends ago.

The top two teams at regionals earn automatic bids to the national championship meet, and the next three finishers are eligible for at-large bids. For Wash. U., both the men’s and women’s teams are ranked fourth in the Midwest. Although the men’s team’s hope for a bid should be aided by its top-10 national ranking, it will face strong competition for the top five at regionals. Among nationally ranked teams, seven of the top 20 and 11 of the top 35 come from the Midwest.

The pool is more diluted on the women’s side, where only five of the top 35 teams are in the Midwest. Only 32 teams are invited to nationals, so the women’s team is teetering on the edge with its No. 27 ranking.

Cheadle believes the women’s team is in position to accept its challenge at the regional meet.

“We’ve had a lot of good training, and we haven’t run our best race yet, which is good because that’s what we want to do in two weeks,” she said. “I think we need to work on our last 1K or our last 2K of the race and really just pass as many people as possible because every point is going to count.”

Sparks echoed those sentiments for the men’s team.

“Coming away with a victory this weekend really just boosts everyone’s confidence, and it lets us know that we’re certainly going in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve still got a few more weeks left of the season, and we still have our best races to come.”