For the last five years the Chicago women's cross country team has finished fourth at the UAA Conference Championship meet. The Maroons were fourth in the conference in 1999 when they finished sixth at the NCAA Division III National meet, and they were fourth again in 2000 when they finished 17th at the national meet.
But all of that was laid to rest Saturday at the 2003 UAA Championships held at Montrose Harbor on Chicago's North Side, as the Maroons finished second, their highest finish since they won the meet two years in a row in 1992 and 1993.
Third-year Erin Steiner was the individual runner-up and the Maroons' top finisher in a time of 22:40 over the six-kilometer course. Steiner finished only nine seconds behind first-place finisher Maggie Grabow of Washington University after leading the race for almost four kilometers.
"Erin showed a lot of confidence in herself, actually leading the majority of the race and beating national qualifiers and All-Americans in the process," said head coach Chris Hall of Steiner's race. "She was beaten by an exceptional runner but defiantly made her work for the win."
Along with Steiner, second-year Jessica Winter earned All-UAA First Team honors, finishing in sixth place overall with a time of 23:01.
But what was most impressive about the Maroons' race was the performance of their third through seventh finishers, all of whom finished within fourteen seconds of each other.
First-year Dilshanie Perera lead the pack with a 16-place finish in 23:49, third-year Emily Kay was 18th in 23:52, fourth-year Hannah Benton placed 21st in 23:58, and fourth-year Darcy Flora and second-year Annie Sanders were 24th and 25th respectively with times of 24:02 and 24:03.
"The women really executed a great team race. This was our highest finish in the UAA conference since 1993 and the runners seem to be rolling into the championship portion of the season," Hall said. "It was great to see five team members running together throughout the entire race as our 3-7 runners. That approach gave everyone more confidence and they competed well."
Washington University won the meet, scoring a total of 43 team points. Chicago followed with 63 and Emory University was third with 84 points.
Fourth-years Tom Haxton and Patrick Sullivan highlighted what was overall a disappointing day for the men's team. Haxton and Sullivan finished first and second overall, but the Maroons still fell to Washington University in the team standings, with Washington scoring a total of 43 points to easily beat the second place Maroons, who scored 69 points.
Haxton won the race easily, just as he did a year ago, separating from the rest of the field right from the gun and running evenly to finish the eight-kilometer course in 25:30. Sullivan had to work a little harder for his second-place finish, just out-kicking last year's runner-up, Washington University's Matt Hoelle, over the last five meters to finish in a time of 25:35. Both Haxton and Sullivan earned All-UAA First Team honors.
"They ran like the senior All-Americans they are. [Haxton] repeated his conference title with relative ease as he ran in the front from about 1000 meters to the finish line and looked very comfortable throughout," Hall said. "Patrick waited to move into second place until about 3K and also looked very comfortable throughout the race. A 1-2 finish is the first in Chicago cross country history for men or women."
Second-year Teage O'Connor finished 13th overall with a time of 25:56 to earn All-UAA Second Team honors. He was followed by third-year Sam Jacobson who was 22nd in 26:29. First-year Emil Bojanov rounded out the Maroons' top five, placing 31st in 26:47.
"Obviously we had hoped to repeat as conference champions, but after Wash U slipped away from us it was difficult to regroup," Hall said. "All season long our goals have been centered around the regional and national meets and the hope that we would race well at UAAs even though it was very early into our taper. I'm still extremely confident that we have the ability to beat Wash U and advance to the NCAAs, but not on this particular day."
Both teams race again on November 15 at the Midwest Regional Championships at Colfax, Wisconsin and should they advance, again on November 22 at the NCAA Division III Championships at Hanover, Indiana.