Monday, November 24, 2008

Washington wins NCAA cross country title...

Thanks to solid top-25 finishes by freshmen Christine Babcock (left/photo by Paul Merca), Kendra Schaaf, and Mel Lawrence, the University of Washington women’s cross country teams finished off the job they set out to accomplish in winning the school’s first NCAA harrier title, scoring 79 points.

The Huskies join an illustrious group of one dozen schools who have won NCAA team titles since 1981, the first year that women contested NCAA titles.

Babcock, the former national high school record holder in the 1500 meters from Irvine, California, worked her way through the pack of finish seventh in a time of 20:02.

Fellow frosh Kendra Schaaf did not get out as hard as many cross country experts had expected and placed twelfth in 20:18.

True to the Huskies’ season long mantra of pack running, sophomore Mel Lawrence finished 25th in 20:33, with junior Katie Follett one place behind, in the same time.

Senior Amanda Miller, running her final race as a Husky, rounded out Washington’s scorers, placing 34th in 20:37, giving the Dawgs a 1-5 split of 35 seconds, one second off their season long average of 34 seconds.

Sophomore Lauren Saylor finished 41st in 20:4, and senior Anita Campbell, a 2007 cross country All American, placing 51st in 20:51.

“I was trying not to focus too much on the battle up front, and stayed calm,” said Babcock. “I’m a better finisher when I stay calm. I was trying to wait until people started coming back to me.”

When asked about her thoughts entering the last long straightaway in the race, Babcock said, “All I was thinking about was making it to the finish line.”

Speaking for the seniors on the team, Anita Campbell said, “We kept focus on our ultimate goal all year long. Today we did what we were supposed to do, and everything we were supposed to do was done.”

“We were nervous, but we’ve been through big races this year. Our efforts were methodical, and a few of us got caught in the back, but we stayed calm, and kept moving up. No one got too excited (about the early predicament), and freaked out.”

“To see Amanda (Miller) get All American in her final race was special, and I couldn’t be happier for her”

The Huskies were behind the Oregon Ducks in the team race at the two kilometer checkpoint, but the pack worked its way out of their early predicament.

"The race plan honestly, about 1500 meters in I thought we were a little back," said 12th-year head coach Greg Metcalf (left/photo by Paul Merca). "It actually didn't go according to plan. But, they did what they've done all year long. After the 3k, they moved and ran better after that. Our front team of Christine Babcock and Kendra Schaaf were in the lead pack right where they needed to be. They did a great job. And Mel and Katie closed well and lowered our team's score dramatically after halfway. Things didn't go 100% as planned, but I won't get greedy. It was good to win."

Just missing the top-40 cutoff for All-America honors was sophomore Lauren Saylor (Clovis, Calif.), who was 41st overall and missed 40th-place by one tenth of a second. Saylor was the very last finisher at NCAA's one year ago as her body shut down near the finish, but ran her best race of the year today and exorcised any memories of a year ago.

Rounding out UW's top-seven was senior Anita Campbell (Vancouver, B.C.), who was making her fourth-straight NCAA Championship appearance. Campbell competed as an individual as a freshman and sophomore when the Huskies didn't qualify as a team, but just two short years later she ends her cross country career as a national champion. Campbell did not have her best day of the season, but still placed 51st overall in 20:50.4. Her finish would have been in the top-five for every other team in the meet.

"Honestly all year long this has been the expectation of our group," said Metcalf. "I talked to the President of the University of Washington, Mark Emmert, on the phone and he talked to our kids. That's pretty cool. Our Athletic Director, Scott Woodward, is here. It's great for the city of Seattle, it's great for the University of Washington, it's great for the young women on our team, it's great for our coaching staff. It's outstanding."

The only question facing the team now seems to be just how many they can win. Washington snapped Stanford's streak of three-straight titles, and UW will certainly be a preseason favorite next year as well, with four runners in the top-41 having two or more years remaining.

"To come here as the favorite and get the win, it says a lot about where we come in the last four years, and the direction from here. We only graduate two seniors. We should be better next year, so all is good in Seattle right now."

Conditions were cold and damp, and strong winds lowered the temperatures even more, but the overall feel was not too different from a typical cold winter day in Seattle.

Junior Katie Follett was asked about the conditions post-race and said she felt right at home.

"It was pretty cold out there today, but we're used to training in the rain," said Follett. "We were actually pretty excited when we saw the weather this morning because we're used to it. We're the Huskies from Seattle."

Texas Tech senior Sally Kipyego earned a three-peat, as the two-time defending champion prevailed after an early challenge from Florida State’s Susan Kuijken, winning in a course record time of 19:29. Kujiken took the runner-up position in 19:35, with Tasmin Fanning of Virginia Tech third in 19:38.

Former Tacoma prep standout Brie Felnagle of the University of North Carolina placed fourth in 19:54.

Former Eastern Washington standout Mattie Bridgmon placed 40th in 20:44, squeezing out Lauren Saylor for the final individual All-American spot.

After the Huskies, Oregon took second in the team race with 131 points. Florida State was third with 163, and West Virginia fourth at 198 points.

In the men’s competition, US Olympian Galen Rupp of the University of Oregon used a strong finishing kick in the final straightaway to win his first ever NCAA individual title to repel the early challenge of front-running sophomore Samuel Chelanga of Liberty.

Rupp, the Duck senior, broke the tape in 29:04, with Chelanga second in 29:08.

Senior Andrew Ledwith of Iona finished third in 29:26, while former Inglemoor High School product David Kinsella, a senior at the University of Portland was a surprising fourth in 29:27.

The day was also a success for Washington's men's team but their 18th-place finish was made somewhat bittersweet by the fact that they had to run without senior Jeremy Mineau, UW's top finisher at Pac-10's and Regionals. Mineau had a foot problem flare up over the past few days and was just unable to go. Still, the team wouldn't have been in Terre Haute without him and the rest of his teammates greatly picked up the slack, as the Huskies were ranked just 21st even with Mineau coming in.

Junior Jake Schmitt paced the Huskies in 58th-place, running the 10,000-meters in 30:32.6. Schmitt was followed by junior Kelly Spady (86th-place; 30:47.2), junior Jordan Swarthout (108th; 30:58.0), senior Jon Harding (142nd; 31:11.7), and junior Colton Tully-Doyle (154th; 31:19.0). Junior Chris Ahl was UW's sixth finisher in 234th, and junior Alec Bromka stepped in for the injured Mineau to place 236th.

Schmitt's finish capped an outstanding first season for the former transfer from California. His 58th-place run was the second-best finish for a Husky male since 1998.

This was the second Top-20 finish for the men's program in the past three seasons, after not cracking the Top-20 from 1994 all the way up until 2006.

Senior Paul Limpf of Eastern Washington finished 73rd in 30:40.

The University of Washington will host a welcoming rally Tuesday at noon at the Graves Building, and will be honored at a reception on December 1st, tentatively scheduled for 4 pm at the Don James Center, according to UW athletics marketing director Leslie Wurzberger.

NOTE: The University of Washington sports information office contributed to this report.

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