After finishing a close second at the New England race to Middlebury College, ranked second nationally, the Williams women’s cross country team took third place at the Division III National Championships this past Saturday.
The team finished with 183 points, behind Calvin College (85) and Middlebury (119). The team’s performance capped off an impressive season that included second place finishes at both the NESCAC championships and New England Division III championships.
Nationals were held at Oshkosh, Wisconsin this year. The course was mostly flat, and the conditions were good, with little wind and cold.
The Ephs took advantage of the good conditions to run a tight, closely packed race. “We had the tightest pack (24.9 seconds) of any five runners in the race, and we also had the fastest six and seven runners,” commented Coach Kristen Morwick. “We had all seven of our runners in before the seventh runner of any other team,” stated Courtney Bennigson ’01. “A team can’t pack any better than that.”
The Williams pack was led by senior tri-captain Tara Crowley, who finished 41st overall with a time of 17:45. The top five was rounded out by Bennigson (43rd), Rebecca Atkinson ’00 (46th), Lauren Wiener ’01 (52nd) and Jonnie Vasse ’02 (58th). Following behind were Williams’ sixth and seventh runners, senior tri-captain Lauren Krisko (91st) and Melody Scheefer ’03 (121st).
“I felt really good about my race,” said Crowley. “I wanted to make the last race count, especially because this is the strongest our team has ever been at nationals, and I knew we could do really well.”
The surprise of the day was Vasse, who normally runs seventh on the team. “Jonnie clinched third place for us,” stated Morwick. “Going from being seventh on the team to scoring for us was great. She had the race of her life and we needed that.”
Morwick emphasized, though, that the team’s success was not the result of just one runner. “No superstars carried us. It was all about team.”
The team’s success at Nationals was all the more satisfying because of the challenges they faced getting there. “We went into the race knowing that we had a lot of obstacles earlier in the season,” commented Krisko. The team was depleted early on in the season due to injuries, with Krisko, Crowley, Vasse and Scheefer all affected. Bennigson came into the season late due to her competition in triathlons.
To respond to these problems, the team trained somewhat differently than in past years. “We changed everything up this year: workouts, racing strategies,” said Morwick. “We rested people, and mixed up our runners every week.”
The team also worked on the mental aspects of racing to prepare for NCAAs. “We did plenty of team bonding outside of running, and we also worked on mental imagery exercises,” said Bennigson. This new strategy involved lots of sacrifice, including losing Little Threes by one point in order to rest the team’s top runners.
“It hurt to lose that meet,” stated Morwick, “but it was all worth it to be third at nationals.”
The new strategy allowed the team to peak at nationals, instead of earlier in the season. “It was a little disconcerting to feel less than completely together midway into the season,” commented Bennigson.
However, the end result was just what the team wanted. “It was by far our best race of the season,” stated Crowley. “We peaked at nationals with seven healthy runners who were the best seven in the country this year,” said Morwick. “I’m really proud of the team.”
While enjoying its success at nationals, the team is already thinking about next year. “We will be losing three significant seniors,” stated Morwick, “but we will also be returning five of our top eight runners.”
The team will look to Joey Shapiro ’01 and Katie Sharff ’02 to help fill the vacated spots. “The fact that we had such a hard time deciding who should run at nationals speaks to the incredible depth and strength of our team,” said Bennigson.
Crowley echoed her sentiment: “We’ll still be a force to be reckoned with next year.”