Women on the cross country team were awash in disbelief when they found out they had won the NCAA Mountain Region Championship Saturday in Ogden, Utah.
“I didn’t believe it at first, I had to keep asking,” runner Kirsten Anthony said. “I knew that we had done a really good job because we are all together, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it.”
The women’s team captured the title for the first time in the program’s history, following another historic conference win two weeks ago.
“It is a huge race, and we went into it hoping we could come out with a win,” said runner April Thomas. “You are kind of like, ‘oh my gosh, is this happening?'”
Thomas, who has been the front-runner of the team for most of the season, led the Rams with a fifth-place finish and a time of 21 minutes on the six-kilometer race.
But what secured the team’s win was that the second through fifth runners finished close enough together — nine seconds to be exact — to allow the Rams to beat out rivals Northern Arizona University, Brigham Young University and Colorado University, who finished second through fourth, respectively.
“We had six runners finish before any other team had five finish,” coach Bryan Berryhill said.
Kirsten Anthony and Heather Loseke finished in 15th and 16th place, respectively, while Allison Gohl and Kristen Hemphill were 19th and 20th. Melissa Thomas finished as the sixth runner in 23rd place, and although her place doesn’t add to the team score, she was able to pass two girls at the end to make sure other teams didn’t score.
“It was a team effort,” Berryhill said. “They knew to win it they had to be all together.”
The women ran most of the race together and tried to push each other along the way.
“If someone moved up, it helped to pull the rest of the group along,” runner Kristen Hemphill said. “It really helped to run as a pack.”
Anthony echoed the same sentiments, noting that how the team worked together contributed to their latest wins.
“Regionals was a team effort. Every meet is, but you could really feel it at this one,” she said.
Although the women’s team has been on a winning streak, the men’s team struggled more than they have all year at Saturday’s meet.
Going into the race, the men were ranked 9th but finished in a disappointing 13th-place.
“As a team, it was the worst effort of the year,” Berryhill said. “We didn’t even run up to our expectations.”
The men’s season is over, but the women will look forward to the next meet, the NCAA National Championships, which will be held in Indiana in a week.
“Regionals was a really great confidence booster,” Thomas said. “Now (the 2nd-5th place runners) know, more than ever, that the group can move as a unit through the race. That is what they need at Nationals.”
The Rams have one week to stay calm, healthy and focused and they are confident that they can crack into the top ten at the national meet.
“I think this whole season we have been working up to this, each week we get stronger and stronger,” Loseke said.
The key to doing well at nationals is having the girls stick together and finishing close to each other like they did this past weekend, Berryhill said.
“If they run solid races and finish nine seconds apart, they will do quite well,” Berryhill said.
And now, more than ever, the Rams are ready to show that all of their preparation up to this point will pay off.
“I think we are ready to pound out another good race,” Thomas said.
Cross country beat reporter Anica Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.