Women’s cross country brings NESCAC title home

Middlebury’s four-year domination of the NESCAC cross-country scene officially came to an end on Saturday, as Williams shattered their winning streak along with the Tufts “Farm Course” record at the NESCAC Championships held in Grafton for their eighth title.

Williams runners placed in the first, second, fourth, eighth and 15th slots for a score of 30 – the lowest winning score ever at NESCACs – comfortably ahead of Middlebury, which took second with 50 points (third, fifth, seventh, 10th, 25th).

Bowdoin was a distant third with 107 points, while Amherst tied with Tufts for seventh place. Only five weeks ago, racing on the elongated Farm Course at the Tufts Invitational 6k, Williams beat Middlebury by only six points in a similar field of schools.

Despite racing most of the course alone in the lead, which by the end was nearly half a minute, Caroline Cretti ’06 broke the 5k course record of 17:54 by nearly 20 seconds, winning the race in 17:35 and becoming Williams’ third individual NESCAC champion.

The conditions were by no means optimal for such an outstanding performance: although the sky remained clear, temperatures were near freezing, and running alone meant breaking the wind alone, which was strong at times. Nevertheless, Cretti seemed to be running almost effortlessly. It was another “breakthrough race in a breakthrough season” for Cretti, Head Coach Pete Farwell said.

Captain Julia Bensen ’03, who set the course record at Tufts on the 6k route earlier this season, finished in 18:02, fending off Middlebury’s Michela Adrian for second place. Michelle Rorke ’06 worked her way up to the front to finish in fourth place in 18:08. Jenn Campbell ’05 was eighth in 18:30.

Kali Moody ’05 (15th, 19:01) and Melody Scheefer ’03 (17th, 19:06) pulled each other along to finish fifth and sixth for Williams, respectively, with Moody setting a 50 second personal record.

Their example of teamwork is what the coaches like to see, and something they encourage other runners to emulate. “Mel is so strong throughout, and Kali has an awesome finish. By racing together they each benefit from the other’s strengths,” Assistant Coach Tara Crowley said.

The depth and strength of Williams’ frontrunners is evinced by the fact that their average time of the five scoring runners was 18:15, which would have been good enough for sixth place overall.

Seven of Williams’ top 12 times on the Grafton course were run on Saturday, including their top three times ever. Furthermore, the Ephs’ seventh runner, Katie Marsh ’05, who came in 21st place with a time of 19:15, placed ahead of Middlebury’s fifth by 10 spots, which marked the best finish ever for Williams’ number-seven runner.

Ann Schorling ’03 finished in 19:43, good for 42nd in the 127-woman field, just ahead of Susie Theroux ’05 (46th, 19:45), who continues to post big improvements, breaking her personal record set only last week by 29 seconds. Next came Katie Davisson ’05, 51st in 19:58, followed 12 seconds later by Mary Iaculli ’06 (65th, 20:10) to wrap up the Williams varsity squad.

“This is another step on our way to the NCAA Championship,” Farwell said after the race. “All our work over the summer and so far this season is paying off, and we are in prime position heading into November,” which holds ECACs, Div. III New Englands and the NCAA Div III Championships in store.

This was the last meet of the season for a good portion of the team, most of whom ran in the three-races-in-one Open, comprised of a men’s 5k, a women’s 5k and a men’s 8k.

Captain Paige McClanahan ’04 was the women’s champion, winning in 20:06. Danner Hickman ’05 took third with a time of 20:15, and Emily Fertig ’06 was right behind in fourth (20:17).

The race provided a good boost of confidence for McClanahan and Fertig, who were recently returning to racing after coming off injuries. “It’s great to see all the alternate training they did clicking,” Farwell said. McClanahan and Fertig will continue to train and prepare for the meets ahead.

Jasmine Mitchell ’03 kicked into high gear for the finish, clocking in at 21:09 in eighth place in her last college cross country race, followed by Rachel Samuelson ’04 (ninth, 21:11). The two ran together for a good portion of the race.

After a short gap came Elizabeth Gress ’06 (19th, 21:48) bringing in a stretched-out pack of Williams runners consisting of Sarah Iams ’04, who finished in 21st place in 21:53 and broke 22 minutes for the first time this season, captain Alicia Andrews ’03 who ran the last race of her college career in 21:59, good for 25th, and Lisetta Shah ’06, coming in 26th out of the 54 women in the Open in 22:04.

Iams and Shah were able to use each other’s strengths and push each other along. “Running with Lisetta really helped me through the first two miles of the race,” Iams said. “She’s good at going uphill and I’m stronger on the down hills. We pretty much took turns leading until the last part.”

Hayley Wynn ’06 battled respiratory problems aggravated by the cold air throughout the race, but still finished over a minute faster than last week, coming in 33rd in 22:35. Andrea Burke ’06 was next (39th, 22:54), followed about 40 seconds later by Alexis Chernak ’05 (44th, 23:36) and then Sarah Connell (49th, 24:34).

The majority of the women who peaked for this race will continue training with the rest of the team, and go right into the indoor track season after a short break.

“This has been a great season,” Shah said. “It’s been a good reminder that even without running a single PR all season, it’s possible to have so much fun. Being part of a team that is so highly ranked on the national level is a great experience, but having such supportive and caring teammates has made all the difference.”

The next meet on the Ephs’ way to NCAA Championships is ECACs, which Williams will host at Mt. Greylock High School. Williams’ eighth through 14th runners will compete then, giving the top seven a chance to rest up for Div. III New Englands on Nov. 16.