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Spartans place 18th at cross country NCAA championships

Senior Justine Jeroski led Spartans with 11th place finish, earning All-American status for third time.

After another dominating season, the Case Western Reserve University women’s Cross Country team returned from the NCAA DIII National Championships with some bragging rights. On Nov. 20, the Spartans placed 18th out of the 32-team field. Senior Justine Jeroski placed 11th overall, and in the process became a three-time All-American. Jeroski’s finish is the top in school history at the NCAA Championship.

After a convincing performance at the Great Lakes Regional Championships on Nov. 13, the Spartans were able to secure a spot in the national meet, hosted by Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. The Spartans placed third at the regional championships, behind Calvin College and the host Hope College. The top two teams from the regional championships receive automatic bids to the national meet. The next three teams to finish become eligible to receive at-large bids to the meet. The NCAA then selects these eligible teams the next day to fill up the national’s field. Catching the eye of the NCAA, the Spartans’ powerful performance earned the squad an at-large bid.

“We hoped for Nationals, and once we got there we wanted to run our best and place as high as we could.” said Jeroski.

Going into the national meet, the Spartans were ranked 23rd in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national poll. Full of excitement and anticipation, the ladies boarded the plane headed for Minneapolis, Minnesota on Thursday morning. Waverly, Iowa did not have a large enough airport to fly into. The Spartans took an extra travel day to fly to Minneapolis and drive down to Iowa in a van.

“We were all very excited for the race and the banquet being held on Friday.” stated sophomore Corey Bowen.

The race on Saturday started out fast, almost too fast. In the first 400 meters, a runner from the University of Chicago fell down. The officials called back the racers to restart the race. Apparently the adrenaline rush didn’t throw off the Spartans. After the second restart, the Spartans got out strong and stuck as a pack. In the field of 279 women, it was difficult to pick out the silver singlets and black long sleeve shirts worn by the Spartans.

One, however, was especially visible. Jeroski headed straight to the front pack. The race was brought out very hard by senior and defending champion Wendy Pavlus of St. Lawrence University. She quickly moved in front of the field and began to pick up the pace. Liz Lawton of the University of Chicago and Jennifer Gossels of Williams College surged to keep up with Pavlus. Meanwhile, Jeroski kept her place in the chase pack, which also contained senior Joanna Johnson from Oberlin. Johnson won the Great Lakes Regional and has provided stiff competition for the Spartans all season.

The race continued over the rolling fields, winding at breakneck speeds past the crowds of spectators. The start and finish of the race were located on the south end of the field, on the other side of a set of railroad tracks. As the racers completed their loops in the field, they began to get closer to the railroad tracks. After passing over the tracks, the course made a 90-degree turn to the right, leading to a 600 meter straight away into the finish. Pavlus put on a strong kick and burned the competition, finishing first in a time of 20:49 for the 6K course. Lawton fell off in the finish, allowing Gossels to finish second, followed by senior Jenny Scherer of St. Norbert College. Lawton ended up in 6th place. Right in the constant stream of finishers, Jeroski kicked in to secure 11th place in a time of 21:28, just 6 seconds behind her UAA rival Lawton. Jeroski’s finish was also the top finish for an Ohio school. Baldwin Wallace senior Kimberly Chinn placed 13th with a time of 21:31, securing All American honors. Johnson finished in 16th with a time of 21:33.

“In a race like Nationals you need to focus on position and run with the people you want to finish with” Jeroski stated on running against the familiar competition.

The Spartan squad soon followed. Junior Natalia Cabrera was the next to finish. Her time of 22:30 was good for 113th place. Sophomore Corey Bowen ran a stellar race and personal record, stepping up to be the team’s third finisher. She placed 163rd overall in a time of 22:54. Seniors Bettina Kaphingst and Andrea Fischione soon followed with times of 22:58 and 23:00 respectively. Freshman Brooke Simpson and senior Cindy Spahn rounded out the rest of the squad, with times of 23:05 and 23:22 respectively.

Through a total team effort, CWRU finished in 18th. The Spartans finished 15th at last year’s national meet, thanks to efforts from All-Americans Elaine Simpson and Jeroski. CWRU was the highest finishing team from Ohio, and beat regional rival Hope College by 7 points.

Middlebury College took first place in the team competition thanks to consistency and a close pack. The top Middlebury harrier finished just 24th but the last scorer for the Panthers was 54th, just 26 seconds apart. Eight points behind in second place was Washington University while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology rounded out the top three.

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