Sweet Relief! After four years women's cross country finally gets to run in national meet

By Josh Springer

The women’s cross country team concluded its extended season with the NCAA Division III Championship meet on Nov. 19 in Delaware, Ohio. This was the first time any of Macalester’s current women runners have competed on the national level. For the seniors, who have devoted four years to the program, the opportunity to race in the national championships could not have been a more climactic finish to their cross country running careers.

The talent of the senior class as well as that of the contributing juniors added a tremendous amount of pressure for the team to compete well this season. Progressively improved results from past years culminated in the overall success of this year’s team.

In 2003, the team was 11th at the regional meet and followed that up by placing seventh last year. This year’s fourth place finish, along with the ensuing trip to nationals, highlighted the women’s growth, continual improvement and strength of the senior class. Ultimately, this year’s season put an end to past frustrations and doubts.

In Ohio, the women finished 21st overall in a race that included 24 of the nation’s best teams. “I think we could have been top-16, but then again, it was the national meet where the race is extremely competitive,” head coach Jordan Cushing said.

The team’s leaders shared similar disappointments with the national race itself, but remained delighted with the experience and wrapping up of their season. “Racing at nationals was an incredible bonding experience for the team,” co-captain Francie Streich ’06 said. “We had a lot of fun together.”

Koby Hagen ’06 once again led the team with a top-50 finish, and Streich was only two seconds behind her. The two have been leading the way for Macalester all year and concluded their final collegiate race with equally solid performances.

Macalester’s third finisher was Emily Stafford ’06 who was closely chased by teammates Callie PaStarr ’07 and Caroline Barnes ’06, who rounded out the team’s top five. Anna Shamey ’07 and Allie Woerpel ’07 completed Mac’s final two spots, finishing within striking distance of their teammates.

This line-up of finishers has remained consistent throughout the majority of the season. The reliability of the top runners helped the team earn its greatest achievements of the season such as winning a large meet in Chicago and qualifying for nationals.

Cushing praised her team for an amazing season, which saw success, disappointment and a great comeback after a disappointing MIAC championship meet.

Three weeks ago in Waverly, Iowa, the team ran for the fourth and final qualifying berth, which automatically advanced them to the national meet for the first time since 1999. The race for the final spot was extremely close, as nationally-ranked Nebraska Wesleyan finished just five points behind the Scots.

In large part, Mac’s veteran status gave it an edge when it counted.

“The amount of leadership and experience helped to give the team its success,” Shamey said.

This season the women were consistently voted into the national rankings and maintained a solid record against other ranked teams. “The team has developed a tradition of excellence and running for the team here at Macalester that other programs will remember,” Cushing said. “I am very proud and thankful to be coaching this team. There is something special and genuine about these girls and the legacy they’ve left for up and coming classes.”

The loss of this year’s senior class has the potential to be devastating for the team next season. Regardless of the strength and recent growth of the program, the loss of five of the team’s top seven runners from regionals will be difficult to overcome.

However, both Cushing and the remaining upper-classmen remain confident that with the help of nationally experienced leaders as well as big improvements from younger teammates, Macalester should be able to maintain its tradition of rankings and depth.

“Our three juniors from this year are such great leaders. Their strength and experience will keep us a competitive team next year,” Cushing said.

Despite their losses, the returning runners remain supremely confident. When asked whether or not the team will return to nationals next year, Shamey simply said, “We’ll be there.