Through sleet and snow, Williams raced to victory on Saturday, coming away as the Div. III New England champions for the first time since 1998.
The Ephs dethroned archrival Middlebury, who has been the meet champion for the past three years, 33 to 61. Also qualifying for Nationals were Bowdoin (162), Trinity (182) and Wesleyan (206).
Almost regardless of circumstances, 33 is a low score, but in a championship field of 273 women, it is truly incredible. Only twice has Williams surpassed it: in winning the 1989 and 1990 Div. III New England Championships, with scores of 29 and 32, respectively.
Middlebury’s score of 61 is three points lower than their 64 points last year, which is further testament to the 2002 Eph team’s unbelievable ability and talent.
Indeed, while scores show that Middlebury has stayed at roughly the same level, Williams has leapfrogged over them and into the spotlight. “It has been a thrill to coach this team, and watch the ladies race with such savvy and high speed throughout the season,” Head Coach Pete Farwell said.
Freezing and wet conditions at Westfield State College did not seem to slow down the Ephs at all this weekend. All of the women set personal records for the 6k, most improving on their previous times by over a minute.
Caroline Cretti ’06 finished in first place for the fourth consecutive race, becoming Williams’ fourth individual winner ever at NCAA Regionals. “Going into the race, the plan was not to go crazy the first mile,” Cretti said. “Just fast and steady, and then settle in and finish strong.”
Cretti took that strategy to heart, staying with Brandeis senior Mariko Tansey Holbrook, who finished second in 20:45, for the beginning of the race before breaking away unchallenged and finishing with a comfortable lead in 20:35.
Captain Julia Bensen ’03 fended off Keene State’s Mary Proulx for third place in 21:03, earning the honor of All-Region First-Team (top 7) for the third time in her career.
Third for the team was Michelle Rorke ’06, whose sixth-place finish gave her the same distinction, and also made her the fifth highest placing first-year runner in College history at the meet.
Jenn Campbell ’05 finished in eighth with a time of 21:26, right on the tail of Middlebury’s first runner Jess Manzer (seventh, 21:25). Coming through in 15th place (22:06) was Katie Marsh ’05, whose finish ensured that all of Williams’ scoring five would receive All-Region NCAA designation. For 43 of the 51 teams in the race, Marsh would also have been their number-one runner.
Crossing the line in 22:21 was Mel Scheefer ’03, whose 22nd place merited all New England Div. III distinction. Kali Moody ’05, battling a side stitch, caught several runners with her strong kick down the last stretch, but just missed All New England status (top 35), finishing 37th in 22:35.
Many parents and teammates braved the foul weather to encourage the runners. “We were probably the most well-supported team out there,” Assistant Coach Tara Crowley said, and the runners definitely appreciated the cheering. “Our fans were great,” Rorke said. “It seemed like every 10 yards there was someone else yelling for us. This was really important because even though Saturday’s race was key, it was hard not to look forward to NCAAs next weekend. All the cheering kept us grounded and let us focus on what we had to accomplish before heading to Nationals.”
Although Williams’ large margin of victory on Saturday was typical of much of the season, the excitement and thrill of seeing the team do so well never diminishes for the onlookers. “I watch them and my eyes start watering,” Captain Alicia Andrews ’03 said.
“The team did great at everything we’ve been working on,” Farwell said. “We focused on our running and not the competition, and were prepared mentally and physically for any weather conditions.
“Our expectations were for a 95-percent peak physically and we exceeded that by pacing well, moving up, and kicking in with something left for next week.”
On Thursday, the team will embark for St. Olaf’s, Minn., for the greatly-anticipated NCAA Championships, where the Ephs have taken second to Middlebury for the past two years.
Coming in as the favorite, and off a season as remarkable and successful as this one has been, Williams seems unstoppable.