Cheadle wins individual regional championship, men’s and women’s cross-country teams qualify for nationals

| Senior Sports Editor

Junior Lucy Cheadle became the first Midwest Region individual champion in Washington University history, and the No. 17 women’s cross-country team raced to third place Saturday in Rock Island, Ill. The No. 2 men’s team finished behind only No. 1 North Central College, but the Bears will have another opportunity this weekend to take down the two-time defending champions.

Cheadle won the 6-kilometer race by almost six seconds despite taking a nasty fall.

“She took a spill during the race and got cut up…and still was able to come back and pull away pretty easily at the end,” head coach Jeff Stiles said.

“I got up right away, so I probably just lost two or three seconds and was a couple steps behind,” Cheadle said. “I scraped up my knee, so I didn’t realize during the race that it was bleeding a little bit.”

Cheadle said her knee still hurt the next day, but she expects to feel fine for the NCAA championship meet Saturday in Hanover, Ind.

Led by Cheadle, the top four runners for the women’s team all placed in the top 30. Sophomore Ellen Toennies finished 15th, followed by freshman Sarah Curci in 17th and senior Lizzy Handschy in 29th. Senior Kathleen Valadez, substituting for injured sophomore Bri Tiffany, turned in a fifth-place finish among the Bears and placed 58th overall.

“The strength of our team is that we don’t have a set order of how we finish, so if someone’s having a good day, she can be our No. 3 runner or our No. 5 runner,” Cheadle said.

The Bears posted a team score of 114 points, just behind No. 19 University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse’s 101. No. 7 University of Chicago placed first with 60 points.

In the men’s 8k run, senior Kevin Sparks led the way with a fifth-place performance. Junior Drew Padgett, who has been the Bears’ top runner all season, slipped up a bit to place 17th. Yet it didn’t affect the team, which posted its lowest all-time team score at the Midwest Regional of 101, Stiles said. Also contributing to that score were junior Garrett Patrick with a 21st-place finish, senior Michael Ellenberger in 22nd and senior Elliott Petterson in 36th.

The Bears were still well behind North Central, which had a team score of just 56.

“We want to be as close to [North Central] as possible going into nationals so we have a little bit of confidence going in,” Patrick said. “I think we came really close to that—we had a couple guys who had really big races and a couple others that weren’t quite there.”

The next step for both teams is nationals. The men’s team is in position to claim its all-time highest rank if it bests 2011’s third-place performance.

Patrick said that Padgett has been dealing with illness and hopefully will be healthier for nationals. Nonetheless, he is enthusiastic about the Bears’ hopes not only to challenge North Central but also to put this season’s squad in the record books.

“We’ve only for the past four years really been a team that’s been a national contender,” Patrick said. “With our underclassmen coming, it looks like we’ll be a contender every year.”

The women’s team will have an uphill climb to the winner’s podium at nationals, but the squad has demonstrated improvement by qualifying after failing to do so last year.

“I’m just really proud of how much everybody has grown since last year because we didn’t graduate anybody [from our top seven],” Cheadle said.

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