Spearheaded by an incredible first-place performance by fourth-year Liz Lawton, the women’s cross country team placed second at the UAA Women’s Cross Country Championship behind Wash U in New York City last Saturday.
Coming off two wins and four straight top-ten finishes, the Maroons entered the event ranked seventh in the country and were expected to finish in one of the top spots.
“We were expecting to win. Two runners have had injury problems in the past week or two and the course was extremely difficult,” explained Lawton. “We could have raced a lot better, but we performed well. Wash U is a great opponent, so it was a toss-up.”
In addition to Lawton’s first-place finish with a time of 21:16 minutes, second-year Julia Sizek finished ninth with a time of 22:27 minutes. The two top-ten finishes were supplemented by a 12th place finish by third-year Rachel Ohman with a time of 22:30 minutes and an 18th place finish by fourth-year Molly Peverada with a time of 22:48.
Coach Chris Hall was happy with the team’s performance, pointing out that the additional stress of midterms worked against them. “I thought our kids competed pretty darn well, but it’s always been a challenging meet for us because of midterms,” he said. “Some lack of sleep this past week and the mental strain of getting ready for midterm exams traditionally has taken a toll on our teams at the UAA conference meet.”
The course, Van Cortlandt Park, has held numerous big cross-country championships. Its hilliness, punctuated by the deadly graveyard hill, proved to be challenging for the runners.
“The first mile was flat, and then it leads to back hills that are extremely steep. It was a big change from the Midwest,” Lawton said.
“It was a pretty challenging course, especially considering the vast differences between Chicago ‘hills’ and actual hills,” said Sizek. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to run on a real cross country course.”
In spite of the difficulty, Lawton used the hills to gain an advantage. Finishing first out of a field of 74 runners, she attributed her success to preparation and strategy. “I’ve been starting to feel like my old self, and I told myself I was going to win the race. I was planning on doing everything I could to win it,” she said.
“I had to hold back the first mile,” Lawton added, “but because a lot of girls don’t know how to run the downhill portion of a course well, I gained momentum and speed while others weren’t able to. When you have to change pace and fight through all the change in pace, it can get really hard mentally. The downhills are what separated me from the field.”
The solid finish at the UAA Championship bodes well for a strong finish at the upcoming Midwest Regional Championship in Rock Island, Illinois on November 13.
“I think the UAA Championship really helped us focus on our goals as a team,” said Sizek. “This race helped us see some nationally ranked competition, and think about what we have to do in the coming weeks to perform well at the national meet.”
“We’ve seen everyone in our region. We are one of the best teams there,” said Hall. “We know where we fit in. It’s going to be tough since our region is one of the best in the country, but I believe we will be ready to go.”
Lawton feels that the team’s training habits throughout the entire season will pay off in the regional meet.
“I don’t see why, if we all are feeling the way we should, we shouldn’t win the regional meet,” Lawton said. “If this weekend was any indication of how things are turning around in our training cycles, we’re starting to feel fresher. We’re supposed to peak at the end of the season. There’s just no reason why we shouldn’t win this race.”