Men’s cross-country finishes fifth at Nationals; Cheadle 21st
Behind junior Kevin Sparks, the Washington University men’s cross-country team placed fifth at the Division III NCAA Championships Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind., marking its fourth straight top 10 national finish.
Sparks finished fourth among 280 runners to claim men’s All-America honors. He completed the 8K course in 24.37.00.
“He’s been running really well at practice; he’s been racing really well,” senior David Hamm said. “But you get to nationals, and it can be anyone’s day almost, but he ran amazing. He got out there right at the beginning of the race with the [top runners], and he hung with them and basically competed the whole race.”
Sophomore Lucy Cheadle, running as an individual in the women’s 6K field of 277, became a second-time All-American with a 21st-place finish and 21:34.10 time.
“The race plan was pretty much just to go out and put myself in a position to be in the top 10, and I really felt that on any given day I could accomplish that, and then the last part of the race, I kind of [tired] and wasn’t able to do so,” Cheadle said.
Cheadle, who finished 20th at last year’s nationals, impressed head coach Jeff Stiles with her determination despite running out of steam late in the race.
“It was probably one of the toughest races I’ve ever seen her run,” Stiles said. “She ran her guts out. It was pretty motivating for everyone to watch.”
Although only eight Wash. U. runners, a small fraction of the approximately 80-person squad, raced in the national championship meet, teammates made the drive from St. Louis to cheer them on. Cheadle felt their support before and during the race.
“It was definitely different…especially going to the starting line by myself, but all the girls were so supportive,” she said. “They were all there to cheer me and warm up with me. I never felt like I was alone.”
The fifth place performance of the men’s team was the second-best in Wash. U. history, following a third place finish last season. The Bears’ score of 226 trailed back-to-back champion North Central College (167), Calvin College (188), Haverford College (188) and University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (190).
The Red and Green were closer than ever in total points to a national title, falling only 59 short of North Central. Last year the margin between North Central and Wash. U. was 96 points.
Hamm checked in second for the Bears at 65th overall (25:26.90), with sophomore Garrett Patrick close behind in 67th (25:28.80). Sophomores Drew Padgett (86th, 25:36.90) and Ryan Senci (87th, 25:37.10) rounded out the scoring.
“Drew Padgett moved up almost 200 spots from mile one to the finish,” Stiles said.
Juniors Michael Ellenberger and Elliott Petterson also raced, checking in at 144th and 172nd, respectively.
After being shut out of nationals for several years until 2009, the men’s team has finished in the top 10 each season since.
“David Hamm becomes the first male cross-country athlete [in school history] to ever be in four national championship races, and I think that’s a great accomplishment for him and to help lead the team to four straight when they’d never been once,” Stiles said.
According to Stiles, Hamm is the only senior among the top 20 men’s runners graduating, so the Bears may come back even stronger in 2013. On the women’s side, most of the top runners are also underclassmen, and the squad will be bolstered by the return of junior Sarah Fisher and sophomore Grace Bridwell from injuries.
“I think that really shows how much the program has really been building and how close we are to maybe actually getting the title in the next couple of years,” Hamm said. “And being the only senior, it was really great to know that a lot of the guys are going to go on and do amazing next year and hopefully for several more years to come.”