Women’s cross country brings home national championship

On Nov. 23, Williams’ season-long journey into the national spotlight culminated in a spectacular victory at the NCAA Div. III Cross Country Championship at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

The team claimed the first national title for the women’s cross country program at Williams with the largest margin of victory in the past two decades and boasted five All-Americans. It was a fitting end to the Ephs’ most successful season ever.

The Ephs left defending champion Middlebury College far in their wake as they triumphed over their rival by more than 100 points, 42 to 145. 42 is the lowest winning score in years, one typical of smaller meets, certainly not one with the top nation’s top 24 Div. III teams. Wartburg College of Iowa was third with 209 points. Trinity was 13th, Bowdoin 14th and Wesleyan 23rd.

The race commenced at noon in chilly but clear 40 degree weather. Despite a harrowing start in which several runners tripped, the Ephs freed themselves from the chaos and then got down to business.

Caroline Cretti ’06 settled in behind the small front pack, briefly led by Wartburg sophomore Missy Butry, before Cretti pulled away with the win, covering the 6K course in a very fast 20:17, nearly a minute ahead of the runner-up.

Two-year captain Julia Bensen ’03 trailed not far behind Cretti. Jenn Campbell ’05 and Michelle Rorke ’06 ran together all the way, starting off behind the big second pack, and consistently moving up until they were just behind Cretti.

Katie Marsh ’05 also worked her way up throughout the race, and an incredible kick that put her past several runners landed her in the top 35, good for All-American status.

“This is the most dominant team I have ever seen at the national level,” said Assistant Coach Tara Crowley ’00. “Each of these women is incredibly talented, but having had each other to train with all season has brought them to an even higher level.”

Indeed, the team amazed spectators as well. Alternate Ann Schorling ’03 reported that as she cheered for her teammates, a man nearby asked her in disbelief, “Wow. . .is that your fourth runner already?” to which she replied, “No. It’s our fifth.”

Cretti, finishing first for Williams and fifth overall in 21:29, was named the top freshman in the country as well as the New England Runner of the Year. (She also appears in “Faces in the Crowd” in the Jan. 13th issue of Sports Illustrated.) Upon Cretti’s return to Williams, a teammate asked her about nationals she modestly replied, “Oh, it was great. But how was your weekend?”

Rorke, whose outstanding race was a perfect close to a season of phenomenal improvement, was on Cretti’s heels by the end, crossing the line just a second behind her teammate (21:30) in sixth, and matching her placing at Div. III New Englands the week before. Campbell also had the best race of her season. She was through the chute in 21:35 in seventh place, and was the sole Williams runner to place higher at Nationals than she had at either NESCAC or Div. III New Englands.

Finishing in eleventh place in 21:54 was Bensen, who became Williams’ first female cross country three-time All-American. As fourth for the team, Bensen was safely ahead of Middlebury’s first runner.

Marsh, who received the Most Improved Runner award at the team’s banquet, was once again the vital fifth and final scorer for the Ephs, a position she has held virtually all season. Marsh finished in 33rd place with a time of 22:29. Only one minute separated her and Cretti.

Melody Scheefer ’03 ran an all-out race, coming in 63rd in the 215-woman field in 22:56, and completing a great comeback after a three year absence from competitive running. Kali Moody ’05, an 800 meter specialist who proved to be a formidable 6K racer as well, also had a standout season. She placed 101st in 23:22.

Head Coach Pete Farwell could not have asked for more. “It is a true championship team through and through,” he said proudly, “not just from these seven performers on the national stage, but from each athlete of our team in every way: spirit, dedication and work ethic, team cooperation and competitive savvy.”