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November 12, 2010

First NCAA berth pits Chicago against regional powers

After placing second at the UAA championships, the Chicago women’s cross-country team will run at the Midwest Regional of the NCAA tournament this Saturday at Augustana College amid great expectations. With the NCAA finals in sight, this should prove to be a competitive meet. Several perennial powerhouses will attend, among them archrivals Wash U, North Central, and the Cheese Triad—the Universities of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, Stevens Point, and Eau Claire.

Even with the Maroons ranked sixth nationally, and second in the Midwest region, the team still has a chip on their shoulders from being considered an underdog at every turn.

“It’s a shame, but we do not get the recognition at this school [that] we desire,” fourth-year Liz Lawton said. “We still stand as underdogs in [the eyes of] the nation and even in the eyes of the school.”

This may be the consequence of a long, grueling season in which Chicago struggled in the intermediate onset, facing tough competition at the Benedictine Invitational and the Loyola Lakefront Invitational in early October.

However, the team has started peaking at the right time, placing second in their last two meets before these regional meets to qualify for the national championship meet on November 20. In the words of Lawton, the Maroon “team has grown extraordinarily close” over this strenuous season and is beginning to feel a spirit of renewal after all the meets and University of Chicago–caliber midterms.

The Chicago women do not have to win this meet to qualify for the NCAA Championship meet, but this would be a great achievement for a team Lawton describes as the “most talented and deep[est in the field],” and well within their expectations. Lawton, individually, will look to reprise her wondrous finishes at the last two meets, placing second at Oshkosh before winning outright at the UAA Championships.

Her leadership and the team’s struggle for acknowledgement will be more than enough to provide the Spartan motivation for this race. “I know I’m not alone when I say I am going to give every ounce of heart I have at these next two meets [Midwest Regional and the NCAA Championship] in order to win both races and bring home the hardware that will show everyone that they’ve been underestimating us for far too long,” Lawton proclaimed. “I’m ready to run as fast and hard as possible, and I know every single girl from Chicago is ready to do the same.

The girls’ expectations are shared by their coach, Chris Hall, who “fully expects them to run their best race of the season.” Their ultimate goal would be to place in the NCAA Championship, not a difficult feat for a Midwest team considering UW–Eau Claire from this region are the current defending national champions.

“We are waiting for our moment to shine as a team,” Lawton said. For that, there is no better stage than the Midwest Regional this Saturday and the NCAA Championships.

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