Cross-country teams move on to regionals

Both the men and women’s cross-country teams will compete at the NCAA Regionals after placing fifth with 110 points in the women’s race and sixth with 161 points in the men’s race at the hilly course in Yakima during the Great Northwest Athletic Conference meet on Saturday.

The women, used to racing with an incomplete team due to injuries, found it beneficial to have the whole team racing together once again.

“It was the most complete race we had as a team. Everybody stepped up and contributed,” senior Heidi Laabs-Johnson said.

Going into the GNAC meet, the women strove to stick with the group and use their running competitors to their advantage.

“We worked on the power of the pack and really wanting to minimize gaps between our runners and closing that down,” head coach Erika Daligcon said. “We also talked about being comfortable with the pace change. I think that’s what successful cross-country running is all about – being comfortable with the adaptation not only forced upon you by the very landscape and terrain, but also by the competitors around you.”

Both Laabs-Johnson and senior Natty Plunkett employed this tactic while nearing the finish line, leading them to finish with the same time of 22 minutes, 44 seconds. Plunkett secured a seventh-place finish, only a literal step ahead of Laabs-Johnson, who placed eighth.

“Natty caught up to me on the last big hill, and then she and I ran from there on into the finish. It was one of those races that a lot of racers thrive on because there were four of us just battling it out on the last few meters,” Laabs-Johnson said.

Laabs-Johnson discovered later on in the day that not only did she place in the top 10 of the GNAC, but she also earned the GNAC Newcomer of the Year Award, given to a sophomore, junior or senior who is new to the conference.

Plunkett, who racked up the same time on the course as she had in three other years, concentrated on finishing strong and pushing through to get with the lead pack.

“I could tell in the last mile that there would be a bit of a struggle for that top 10, so I was able to push it at the end,” Plunkett said.

Among other women placers from SPU was sophomore Robyn Zeidler, taking 22nd, and sophomore Alli Cutting, earning 39th. Both women entered the race still recovering from injuries.

“Zeidler and Cutting were question marks going in [to the conference meet], but we had a cross-training program for them, and they know how to cross-train well. They’re seasoned racers,” Daligcon said.

As for the men, injuries plagued their team on Saturday.

“We had a few health issues. Not that we want to make any excuses because every team does. That’s just the nature of the sport. But unfortunately, a few of my guys did have some pretty significant health issues that they were dealing with and battling through,” Daligcon said.

Junior AJ Baker was the first of the Falcon men to cross the finish line, with a time of 26:01, for 15th place.

“The guys really gave it their all in that moment, and that’s what we had talked about. It was unfortunate that St. Martin’s snuck in there and claimed that fifth spot,” Daligcon said.

Taking into account the health of the team on the day of the meet and the fact that the men were regionally ranked in three of the five weeks of their season, SPU Athletic Director Erin O’Connell allowed them to take a spot at regionals.

“I think if we had a different day, it would perhaps have been a different turn out. You never know. But I was thankful that our athletic director was still willing to grant them another chance to compete,” Daligcon said.

Both the men and women hope to see their health improve over the next few weeks before they compete at regionals in Spokane on Nov. 5.

“We’ll wait and see. I was just going through my results and picturing what could happen, and honestly, you never know. What I do know [is] that once that gun goes off, everyone is going to be as ready as they can possibly be,” Daligcon said.

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Title: Cross-country teams move on to regionals | Author: Ashley Boucher | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2011-10-26 | Internal ID: 7835