Wellesley’s cross country team competed at the 2014 NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships on Nov. 22 at the Kings Golf Center in Mason, Ohio, making its third ever appearance, the first since 1986, at the competition.
According to head coach Phil Jennings, 30 of the 32 teams that qualified for the championship this year have sent teams to the NCAA meet within the past six years, indicating the strength and depth of competition at the event.
The Blue finished No. 22 in the team classification as Taylor Bickford ’15 led Wellesley with a time of 23:11.6, earning a score of 70. She was followed by Priyanka Fouda ’16, who finished in 23:26.6 for a score of 92, and Mary Keenan ’17 with a time of 23:27.2, earning a score of 93.
Wellesley’s overall team score of 576 was rounded off by Nicole Chui ’15, who tallied 146 points from a time of 23:51.6, and Alice Zhou ’17, who scored 175 points for a time of 24:14.9. Edie Sharon ’17 and Sonja Cwik ’17 completed the course in 24:40.8 and in 24:53.3, attaining scores of 200 and 207, respectively.
“It was gratifying to see our team improve upon our ranking coming into the championship and finish No. 22 given our inexperience at that level,” Jennings said.
Bickford echoed the sentiment.
“Initially, we had no goals. We didn’t even know for sure until the Sunday after Regionals at 3 p.m. that we had made it to Nationals,” Bickford said.
Considering the Blue had not qualified for nationals since 1986, competing in the championship became a dream for several members of the cross country team. After starting the season unranked, the cross country team collected a number of top finishes, including first place at the Seven Sisters Championship, seventh place at the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships and runner-up at the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Championships. These performances, in addition to a fifth place finish at NCAA Regionals, earned the Blue a No. 25 ranking going into the national championships.
“The fact that we are now ranked No. 22 in the nation means we left no goal unaccomplished, and we truly completed our season-long goal of earning some recognition,” Bickford said.
Bickford also noted that the atmosphere at the championship meet was unlike any other the Blue had experienced in their season.
“Teams like Tufts, whose whole team, rather than just the top 8 competing athletes, [would] roadtrip out and go practically clothing-less, covered in nothing but body paint, running across the field and waving a massive flag, cheering. Another college had erected a full tipi; they must have been there hours before the race to do that,” Bickford said.
Along with the energy and excitement at the meet, nationals entailed several unique perks including a championship banquet, warm up tents, video scoreboards and live webcasting, which according to Jennings, also made the experience special.
“The national meet is the most exciting meet of the season, with every aspect of it taken to the next level. It has the biggest crowds and best presentation and course preparation…The meet truly brings together the best teams and individuals in Division III cross country, and the experience can certainly be intimidating for those that have never competed at NCAAs before,” Jennings said.
While the Blue were surrounded by the excitement of nationals, they were able to maintain the camaraderie that served them throughout the regular season.
“The power and support you get from being surrounded by teammates in the middle of a race is priceless. When I was able to look to the right, or in front and see a teammate in Wellesley blue, it certainly made me pick up my pace and try just a little harder to stay with them, work with them,” Bickford said.
The NCAA Championships marked the end of a fulfilling season for the Wellesley cross country team.
“Overall, the experience brought our team closer together, boosted everyone’s confidence and established a benchmark for our program moving into the future,” Jennings noted. The team will now focus on training and preparing for the 2015 season.
Photo courtesy of Megan LaBella, Assistant Cross Country Coach