Women’s cross country the top-ranked team in Div. III

Women’s cross country moved up to the number one slot in the national Div. III rankings last week, and their victory Saturday at the Tufts Invitational in Grafton proved that is where they belong.

Williams defeated Middlebury for the second week in a row, 34-40. The race was a close one, though; the six-point margin between the two rivals was small, and the outcome could have been different with only slight changes in placing. Amherst was a distant third with 87 points, Wesleyan fourth with 96 and Tufts fifth with 102.

Since the Ephs have attended this meet in past years, they were somewhat familiar with the course. But Tufts made a few changes this year in order to lengthen it from 5k (3.1 miles) to 6k (3.7 miles). Divisions I and II have traditionally raced the 6k distance, and this year Div. III is moving up to join them.

“This was the first 6k ever for Williams cross country,” Head Coach Pete Farwell said. “It was a very good debut.”

“Very good” is almost an understatement. The Ephs went one, two and four, with Captain Julia Bensen ’03 winning the race and setting the course record at 21:41. Caroline Cretti ’06 was with her the whole way, finishing a close second in 21:43. Jenn Campbell ’05 was fourth, with a time of 22:27. A tight Middlebury pack of five claimed the sixth through tenth spots, which would have been hard to beat had Williams’ top three not done so well.

Michelle Rourke ’06 placed an impressive 13th overall and fourth for the Ephs (23:31) in her Williams racing debut. Soon after her was Katie Marsh ’05, wrapping up Williams’ scoring five in 14th place with a time of 23:35. Melody Sheefer ’03 was 18th (23:57) and Katie Davisson ’05 came in 20th, crossing the finish line in 24 minutes flat in her first race of the season.

Mary Iaculli ’06 led the Ephs’ second seven through the chute, finishing in 24:04. Teammates Ann Schorling ’03, Danner Hickman’05 and Susie Theroux ’05 were not far behind.

The Ephs’ strategy of cruising through the first part of the race before moving up and passing people over the last two miles worked again. Bensen and Cretti trailed Amherst sophomore Carter Hamill, last year’s indoor track national 8k champion, at the mile mark, but were safely ahead of her by the three-mile post.

Except for the front pack, most of the Ephs passed about a dozen other runners between the first and third miles. In general, the one, two and three mile splits showed the women’s third mile to be slightly faster than their second.

“The girls looked so strong today,” Assistant Coach Tara Crowley said. “They packed well and didn’t get carried away. They looked happy and relaxed too, which always helps.” Maybe they were smiling because they all were setting personal records in the 6k.

At 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, part of the team will participate in a 5k race against Mount Hermon Prep School on their home course at Mount Greylock High School.

Williams will reroute it into a 6k course for the Plansky Invite, which the team will host on Oct. 19.

Before those races, the Ephs will hold the annual Alumni Meet at home, and then race in Boston’s Franklin Park in the hotly-anticipated Div. I New Englands.

Eve Besant ’04 said it best: “We’re really looking forward to the rest of the season – bring it on!”