Saturday, October 18, 2008

Schaff and Babcock lead Huskies to victory at Pre Nationals in Terre Haute...

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - A phenomenal team effort carried the No. 1 Washington women's cross country team, led by freshmen Kendra Schaaf and Christine Babcock (left/photo by Paul Merca) to a dominating win at the Pre-National Meet this morning, as the Huskies placed four runners in the Top-10 despite taking on 11 ranked teams.

This was the first major challenge for the Huskies and they could hardly have done more to confirm their current ranking as the top team in the nation.

The Pre-National race is the final regular season event for most teams, and always attracts an elite field as it is held on the same LaVern Gibson Championship Course that hosts the NCAA Championships just over a month from now. Washington was one of four Top-10 teams in the current USTFCCCA rankings competing in the Blue Race.

The top-seeded Huskies accumulated a scant 36 points, with second-place Villanova well back with 126 points. Minnesota, ranked fourth in the nation, was third with 198, followed by 9th-ranked Michigan State in fourth with 215, and No. 15 Florida in fifth with 233. For some perspective, one year ago the Stanford women won Pre-Nationals with 102 points on their way to a third-straight NCAA title.

The Huskies placed all five of their scoring runners in the top-20, where many teams would be happy to have one finisher. A trio of Huskies finished together in third, fourth, and fifth places, led by freshman Kendra Schaaf who covered the 6,000-meter course in 20-minutes and 15 seconds. Fellow freshman Christine Babcock was just a split second behind in fourth place, and sophomore Mel Lawrence took fifth in 20:18.

"In talking to our women they honestly thought we could have seven in the top-25," said head coach Greg Metcalf. "We just were very aggressive and at 3K we had five in the top-10 and it just shaped up to be an outstanding day. We just did what we've done every other weekend. Ultimately did I think we would score 36 points? No. But this group is capable of excellence and showed it again today. You know you're going to have great team success when five women are thinking about winning a race."

Washington's two returning All-Americans were the fourth and fifth finishers on the squad. Junior Katie Follett placed 8th in 20:20, and senior Anita Campbell was 16th overall in 20:38. Not to be overlooked was sophomore Lauren Saylor who had a great day coming in 27th in 20:57, and sophomore Kailey Campbell who was 51st in 21:18.

Christine did a phenomenal job. She took a shot and had a lead but (winner Brie Felnagle of Tacoma, competing for North Carolina) kind of stalked her. But for their first run over national course, that was one of the most exciting things today

There is more in the tank for sure, lots more," said Metcalf on the team going forward. "Katie had her best race of the year today but is still getting into shape and needs more time. Anita ran faster today than she did last year (in a 12th-place finish). Christine and Kendra, to run so well in their first time over the national course, that was one of the most exciting parts of the day. Christine did a phenomenal job, and Kendra took a shot at one point and had a ten meter lead, but it was great experience."

Also in the Blue race, the Washington State women’s team finished 16th. Junior Sara TranĂ© (Pixbo, Sweden) continued her consistent performance for the Cougars, finishing the 6,000m women's Blue race in 47th place with a time of 21-minutes, 16 seconds. Junior Lisa Egami (48th, 26.17.0), freshman Michelly Foley (98th, 21:50.7), junior Chelsea VanDeBrake (134th, 22:13.6), and sophomore Amanda Andrews (140th, 22:16.4) also scored for WSU. Emily Farrar and Marisa Sandoval finished 198th and 218nd, respectively.

Junior Jake Schmitt led the men's team with a 27th-place finish in 24:08 for 8,000-meters. He was followed by senior Jeremy Mineau who was 48th in 24:23. A strong third for Washington was junior Colton Tully-Doyle, who placed 68th in 24:39 for his best Husky finish. Senior Jon Harding was 78th in 24:43 and junior Chris Ahl was 85th in 24:48 to round out the scoring. Juniors Jordan Swarthout and Alec Bromka were 103rd and 157th, respectively, to complete the top-seven.

"I thought our men ran solid. We're still following a deliberate plan to run better later in the season at 10,000-meters," said Metcalf. "This was Jake Schmitt's first time on the national course and he was very strong. The guys were out a little harder than they probably should have been, but the West Region did what it needed to do which works to our advantage at Regionals. All in all our men took a step in the right direction."

The women's first-place finish surpassed the fourth-place showing from 2007 as the program's best ever. The Huskies were so impressive, their top-five women averaged 20:21, which equaled the time of the second-place finisher in the women's White Race, held after UW's Blue Race and featuring several more Top-10 teams including No. 3 Florida State. Anita Campbell, who was UW's fifth finisher, would have been the No.1 runner for 4th-ranked Minnesota and 6th-ranked Stanford.

The Washington State men’s team raced in the Blue division, as WSU senior Drew Polley was the top finisher for the Cougar men. Polley finished the 8,000m in 37th place with a time of 24:16.8. The other scorers for the Cougars were junior Sam Ahlbeck (66th, 24:38.3), junior Dominic Smargiassi (92nd, 24:52.5), junior Mark Moeller (124th, 25:06.3), and freshman Justin Englund (177th, 25:30.4). Freshman Jono Lafler also ran for the Cougars and finished 238th respectively.

The WSU men placed 17th out of out of 41 teams in the Blue division.

Up next for the Cougars and Huskies is the Pacific-10 Conference Championships, Oct. 31 in Springfield, Oregon, and for the Husky women, a showdown of titanic proportions with pre-season #1 Oregon, which did not travel to the Pre-Nationals.

NOTE: The sports information offices of the University of Washington and Washington State University contributed to this report.

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