Cross country women 5th, men 16th at NCAA Championships

| Staff Reporter

Head coach Jeff Stiles could only summarize his team’s day in a short exclamation: “So close!”

In a tightly contested 32-team field, the Washington University women’s cross country team finished fifth Saturday at the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championships at the Lake Breeze Golf Club in Oshkosh, Wis.

Cross-country runners participate in the UAA Conference Cross Country Championship on Nov. 1, 2014.  This weekend, the women’s team took fifth place and the men’s team took 16th place at the NCAA Championships.Mary Richardson | Student Life

Cross-country runners participate in the UAA Conference Cross Country Championship on Nov. 1, 2014. This weekend, the women’s team took fifth place and the men’s team took 16th place at the NCAA Championships.

On the legs of five runners placing in the top 100 of the 280-runner race, the Bears tallied 193 points, just five points shy of three-time defending champion and fourth-place finisher Johns Hopkins University and 14 points behind second-place Geneseo State College. The 14-point differential was actually smaller than the 24 points separating Wash. U. and sixth-place SUNY Oneonta. The Red and Green’s aggregate time of 1:50:04 was just five seconds slower than Geneseo State’s.

Leading the charge for the Bears was senior Ellen Toennies, who stormed back from 189th place after the first kilometer and 84th place after the second kilometer to finish in ninth overall. The performance earned her All-America honors and marked the sixth individual top-10 finish in Wash. U. history and third in a row. Toennies saved her best for last, running a season-best 6K with a time of 21:33.8 to pace the Bears in the final meet of her career. Stiles described Toennies’s development from a determined underclassman to a respected leader.

“It’s been quite the journey, and she is not even remotely the same athlete as when she walked in as a freshman. It’s been a transformation, so to see where she came in as a freshman, she was just unrecognizable,” Stiles said. “In her sophomore year, over the summer, she just made a decision: She was going to be very good. And she just committed to that, so her work ethic, and her commitment, has been just incredible and that, I think, is a testament to the leaders before her. She’s always been someone who’s set the bar.”

Even with Toennis departing after this season, the Wash. U. women should continue to be in good shape in 2016, with a young core.

Sophomore Aly Wayne (47th), junior Sarah Curci (56th), freshman Ellie Degen (79th) and sophomore Alison Lindsay (98th), all scored for the Red and Green. Though each experienced some regression from their times at last week’s NCAA Midwest Regionals, their performances solidified the Bears’ top-five team effort.

Wayne represents a wild card moving forward. She did not compete on the varsity team last season and in her first collegiate race, the NCAA Midwest Regionals, she raced to 13th overall. Stiles is eager to discover what Wayne’s future may hold.

“We’re excited to find out. We don’t really know. I think it’s obviously pretty good, so we’re excited to find out what that looks like,” Stiles said.

The men’s team also landed in the top half of their 32-team field, riding an at-large bid to a 16th-place finish. Junior Ryan Becker earned All-American honors, placing 21st with a time of 24:47.6 in the 8K race. He is just the seventh All-American in Wash. U. men’s cross-country history.

Stiles admired the ability of his injury-ravaged team to deliver despite the long odds.

“Man, did they lay it out there. Ryan Becker’s running on half an Achilles, so we just battled and battled and battled. So to finish eighth in the region and to come out and finish 16th in the nation; we were ranked 28th coming in. So to go and finish 16th—again, a huge success,” Stiles said.

Senior Josh Clark also finished in the top 50 of the 278-person race, racing to 43rd overall. A pair of two other seniors, Adam Streicher (151st) and Alex Goldberg (165th), also notched points for the Bears, while junior Ben Rosenkranz (180th) finalized the 420-point score for Wash. U.

With three of his top four men’s runners on the way out, Stiles recognizes that change is inevitable but is optimistic that it will lead to an even more competitive team next year.

“We have a lot of depth; we just have to get better. And we have a lot of guys that are hungry, and next year we can be a lot better than we were this year,” Stiles said. “But it’s going to be about what happens between now and then.”

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