Both the men's and the women's cross country teams finished in sixth place Saturday at the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional Championships in Peoria, Illinois. While each team missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships, both had strong performances, especially the men's team, which earned both its highest finish ever and lowest point total ever in the regional meet. Additionally, third-years Tom Haxton and Patrick Sullivan placed high enough to earn All-Region recognition and qualify to the NCAA Championships individually.
On the men's side, UW-Oshkosh won the meet handily, scoring only 51 points. North Central College finished second with 81 points, followed by a surprisingly strong UW-Steven's Point with 91 points. UW-LaCrosse then edged out both UW-Platteville and Chicago for the fourth and final team-qualifying position to the NCAA Championships, scoring 102 points to Platteville's 124 and Chicago's 172.
Only the top three teams in the women's meet qualified for the NCAA Championships. Washington University won the meet with 112 points, finishing ahead of UW-LaCrosse's 128 points and Elmhurst, 129. UW-Oshkosh was fourth with 178, followed by UW-Steven's Point with 185 and Chicago with 200.
Haxton posted the highest finish for either team, improving one position from his fourth-place finish of a year ago to place third for the eight-kilometer course in 24:47. UW-Platteville third-year Ryan Kleimenhagen won the meet in 24:28, pulling away from both Haxton and UW-LaCrosse fourth-year Dan Sutton, over the final two kilometers. Sutton then outdistanced Haxton in the final stretch to finish second in 24:42.
Sullivan passed four runners over the final kilometer of the race to claim the final individual qualifying position with a 16th place finish in 25:07. Individual qualifying positions were awarded to the first six individuals not part of a qualifying team. Both Haxton and Kleimenhagen also advanced to the NCAA Championships as individual qualifiers.
Coach Hall later said of Haxton and Sullivan's performances, "Tom has been running as well as anyone in the country throughout the season and in my opinion didn't have to push himself real hard this weekend. Patrick has done a great job of patiently moving up throughout the season and getting himself back into the NCAA's after dealing with a stress fracture that really limited his running throughout the summer and the first half of the season. They both belong in the NCAA's."
Fourth-year Peter Bugg was third for the men's team, finishing 44th with a time of 25:29. Fourth-year Paddy White and first-year Teage O'Conner rounded out the scoring five, finishing together in 55th and 56th place in 26:03 and 26:04 respectively. First-year Pat Hogan was 83rd in 26:35 and third-year Karl Striepe (the illustrious author) was 100th in 26:53.
The sixth-place performance dawned particularly hard on the men's team in light of the fact that it would have qualified them to the NCAA Championship in any other of the eight regions that send teams to the championships. Hall commented, "Overall, I was very pleased with the way our team competed this weekend. The men's team had its highest ever place finish and team score in the regional meet. The top four teams qualified for the NCAA championships, and the fourth-ranked team in the country finished fourth in our region. We may not quite be at that level but certainly are moving in that direction."
Second-year Erin Steiner led the women's team with a 22nd place finish in a time of 22:17 over the six-kilometer course, a finish high enough to garner All-Region recognition. Steiner was followed by third-year Niki Voelkel and first-year Jessica Winter, finishing 41st and 43rd in 22:51 and 22:58 respectively. First-year Annie Sanders was 51st in 23:05 and fourth-year Clarisse Mesa rounded out the Maroon's scoring five, finishing in 55th with a time of 23:10. Third-years Hannah Benton and Darcy Flora placed 67th in 23:20 and 105th in 23:57 respectively.
Hall also noted the strength of the women's competition: "The women also had a very solid weekend. They finished within 15 points of the 15th ranked team in the country. We would have beaten them running only four seconds faster per runner, which is a very slim gap. I thought they ran a very strong team race but needed a little more out-front scoring than what we currently have to move onto the NCAA's."
The NCAA Division III Championships will take place this Saturday in Northfield, Minnesota. The women's race will begin at 11:00 a.m., followed by the men's race at noon.