Owl Women Race to NCAA Berth
'SPRINGFIELD, MASS. 11/11/06 - The torch been past at Keene State College. After earning nine consecutive berths to the NCAA Division III cross country championships, the owl men's team relinquished the honor to the Keene State women's team at Saturday's NCAA New England Regional qualifying meet held at Veterans golf course in Springfield.
Paced by a second-place finish by Breanne Lucey (Keene, N.H.) and a seventh-place performance by Jennifer Adams (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.), the KSC women finished with 160 points to earn the fifth and final team berth to the NCAA Championships will take place next Saturday at Wilmington College in Ohio.
The KSC men finished 15th with 248 points. It marks the first time since joining Division III the Owls won't be making the trips to the championships.
While Keene State has sent individual women qualifiers to the meet, this year's squad becomes the first in program history to go as a team. "They answered the call today," said a pleased KSC coach Peter Thomas. "We felt we had a good shot at getting the fifth spot going in and fortunately things broke our way."
As expected, Lucey and Adams went out with the lead pack. Lucey held the lead for the first two and a half miles before she was overtaken by Wesleyan's Ellen Davis who won the race in a time of 21:29.3 on the 6K course.
"My main focus was to get to nationals," said Lucey, who posted a second-place time of 21:37.9. "I'm so pumped that we're going out as a team."
Adams, who will be racing for her second straight All-American honor, also started strong before being hampered by cramps midway in the race. "I felt good going out, but camped up," said Adams, who finished with a time of 22:07.8. "I was happy to make it to the end."
Stephanie Westcott (Bellows Falls, Vt.) and freshman Rita Marcotte (Heath, Mass.) were the Owls' third and fourth runners. Westcott placed 17th (22:36.2) while Marcotte finished 45th with a time of 23:41.0.
Thomas said the performance of fifth runner Sarah Miller (Walpole, N.H.) was crucial to the team's success. "Sophie (Holly) faded and Sarah filled the void," he said.
"Pete told me I was the team's fifth runner and I had to pick it up," said Miller. "I didn't know what was going on, so I just pushed a little harder and started passing people."
Miller, who placed 89th (24:31.5) caught up to Holly (90th, 24:31.9) at the finish line and secured the Owls' trip to the nationals.
"It's an indescribable feeling," said, Miller, who has now been a member of KSC soccer, track and cross country NCAA teams. "I never thought I'd be going to the nationals in my first cross country season."
"This team has a tremendous work ethic," said Thomas. "They showed up every day at practice with the desire to make themselves better runners, and it paid off today."
Ranked 16th in the national poll and tied for fifth with Colby in the regional rankings, KSC got some unexpected help when two Colby runners struggled in the race. Colby finished behind the Owls with 214 points.
Middlebury (73 points) edged Amherst (78 points) for the team championship. Williams, third with 100 points, and Tufts, fourth with 118 points, will join the Owls at next Saturday's championship.
Thomas was hoping for a top-10 finish by his Keene State men's team. The Owls' Kevin Kelleher (Rocky Hill, Conn.) led the race for three miles before experiencing problems and finishing 23rd overall with a time of 26:25.5. Kelleher, a junior, missed an individual qualifying spot by 20 seconds.
KSC was also hurt when sophomore Brock Welch (Merrimack, N.H.) had to drop out of the race.
Freshman Patrick Davis (Wethersfield, Conn., who placed 68th (27:19.3) and Jason Garrity (Topsfield, Mass.), who was 74th (27:29.5) were the Owls' top finishers.
Williams took the team title with 57 points, followed by Bowdoin (125 points), Trinity (164 points), Wesleyan (165 points), and Tufts (180 points). Notre Hunter of Trinity won the race with a time of 25:37.9 on the 8K course.
"It's going to be strange going to the national with the women's team," Thomas admitted. "But, they deserved it. The men had their turn, and now it's time for the women to be in the spotlight."