Two top-four finishes for cross country at NCAA nationals

| Senior Sports Editor

In front of a Louisville, Ky. crowd that featured 100 Washington University student athletes and at least 50 alumni, the cross country team capped its season with two final four finishes in the national championships on Saturday, as the No. 1 women’s team came second and the No. 10 men’s team finished fourth.

Coming off a victory in the Midwest Regionals last weekend, the defending national champion women finished just 13 points behind Johns Hopkins University. The men, who were second at nationals last year, completed the race trailing the winner, Pomona-Pitzer, by 29 points.

The race marked the 79th and 80th times the teams have finished in the final four. “Year in and year out, coaches come up to me and tell me how amazed they are at the poise our athletes perform with because they see our consistency,” head coach Jeff Stiles said. “Our consistent performance at the national championships to be a top-four team just isn’t really matched.”

“To come up short is disappointing for the athletes, to look back and see how close it was,” Stiles said. “To me, the place is not the goal, but as competitors of course they wanted to win when they were that close. But they were super proud. They knew they laid it out there and I think they walked away feeling really good about that.”

Senior Paige Lawler, who was the women’s individual champion last year, led the Bears with a seventh-place finish in 21:26.1. The women’s captain, senior Sophie Watterson, followed close behind, coming in 19th place with a time of 21:51.6.

On the men’s side, senior Nick Matteucci led the Bears, finishing 20th with a time of 24:49.5. Senior Marco Quaroni finished 38th, completing the race in 24:56.2.

The Bears’ seventh runner, senior Jack Sebok, came 84th in a personal-best 25:21.6. Stiles observed that Sebok’s finish was the highest a seventh runner has placed in championships since 2014. “Just to demonstrate the men’s depth, that was pretty remarkable,” Stiles said.

Stiles related the national championship to the Super Bowl. “You can run against faster competition and you can run in bigger races, but you can’t find one that has 280 people with that much parity, where three seconds at 1000 meters can separate 80 people. You just can’t get it,” Stiles said.

“It’s trial by fire if someone’s new, but also where you really lean on experience. Having teammates who have done it helps you to follow them and that’s why being a team that is there consistently is a huge advantage,” Stiles said. “That’s why what we did was so impressive, because for so many people to do well like that is a testament to them and to the chemistry of the team.”

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