Runners' work ethic pays off at New England Division III race
The cross country women came from behind to take the New England Division III region by storm last Saturday, earning a berth in the NCAA Championship meet with its fifth-place finish behind Middlebury, Williams, Trinity, and Amherst.
"It was the best feeling to be the underdogs, and to go in and surprise the competition," said co-captain Kala Hardacker '04. "There were four solid teams and the fifth place for a nationals bid was somewhat of a wild-card, so all season we had our sights set on it."
After a disappointing sixth-place finish at the NESCAC meet two weeks ago, the top seven women wanted revenge-specially Neoma Palmer '07.
Finishing behind Courtney Quirin, Wesleyan's top runner, in all of the preceding races, Palmer blew past Quirin to claim an outstanding 11th place overall finish. Palmer, Bowdoin's first finisher and the third-highest freshman finisher, covered the 6K (3.75 miles) course in 22:29, averaging 6:09 per mile in her first ever 6K race.
"I was feeling pretty strong since we had been running less and my legs were fresh," said Palmer. "I tried to stay optimistic about the goals set for our team, and it helped that our captains were so encouraging and positive."
Four places behind Palmer, Audra Caler '05 crossed the finish line in 22:56, 15th place overall. "Audra's been sick for the past two weeks, and had a courageous race to finish 15th out of 300 runners," said Coach Peter Slovenski. "She showed a lot of courage by running so well when she was not completely recovered."
In 18th place overall was Ellen Beth '05 who had the race of the day. She finished in 23:00, four seconds behind Caler. Along with Palmer and Caler, Beth earned All-New England honors for finishing in the top 35.
With characteristic modesty, Beth attributed her self-proclaimed "best race since high school" to the spirit and support of her teammates. Beth has consistently improved throughout the season, and her distinctive endurance gave her an advantage in the longer race.
"Ellen had a great finish, closing the gap between herself and Wesleyan's leading runner," said Palmer.
Livy Lewis '07 continued Bowdoin's lead over Wesleyan, finishing a valuable seven places ahead of Wesleyan's fourth runner. She finished in 53rd place with a time of 24:01. In her first ever season of cross country, Lewis has become a crucial force on the team.
"We came into [the race] knowing that every person and every place mattered to the team, every runner from the one and two position, down to the five, six, and seven girls could make or break our bid to nationals," said Katie Landry '05.
Fortunately, the Bowdoin women had the depth necessary to succeed in such competitive races. Lewis, Landry, Kristen Brownell '07, and Hardacker ran in a tight pack for the first couple of miles before spreading out. Brownell and Landry paced each other along the course, both finishing in 24:29 in 74th and 75th places, respectively.
Hardacker finished in 25:17, 120th place overall. "Kala was integral in or success because she helped to lead the team and ran in the race," said Beth. "I think what stood out most for me when we qualified was that it was completely a team effort. Lynne [Davies] '04, Chelsea [Spector] '04, and Kala worked hard to get us focused on a common goal, and everyone gave it a good effort."
Landry considers Saturday's race to be "one of the best Bowdoin cross country races by far. Coming from a hard NESCAC race two weeks ago, we were definitely the underdogs. I think our team really regrouped after NESCACs. The coaches didn't put any pressure on us, and Coach Slovenski said before the races that he would be happy with top ten finishes for both the men's and women's teams."
Slovenski the women all season with nationals in mind. "It was fun to surprise the other teams," he said. "We ran well in practices, but not in the races. We knew we were a good team, and we saved our best effort for the time when it counted the most."
The women appreciated Slovenski's confidence and relaxed attitude.
"Coach kept telling us that we had no pressure, and that it would be fun to beat teams that had beaten us throughout the season, or were right on our tails," said Hardacker. "I was so impressed by how everyone did and how supportive the rest of the team was during the race - we had the best fans out there by far. Qualifying for nationals was our ultimate team goal this season, so it is VERY exciting to reach it and continue into the postseason together for the second year in a row."
The women will travel to Hanover, Indiana, for the NCAA Championships tomorrow. "Many of us had fantastic races [on Saturday] and I'm sure we will prevail at nationals as well!" Palmer said.
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