September 30, 2005

Women's cross country pack picking up speed

The rest of Division III is now officially on notice: The Chicago women are a force to be reckoned with.

The Maroons took a great leap forward last weekend, finishing just five points out of first in a strong field at the Brismann-Lundeen Invite Friday. The performance won them a spot in the national rankings, as the team made its debut at 18th.

Coaches have had high expectations for the veteran squad, and as the season progresses it's becoming increasingly clear why.

"We have a good team, and I think we needed that performance to make sure they knew that," head coach Chris Hall said. "I think we really showed that we are a team that's going to be a contender to go to the national championships. It's hard to compare results, but we should be up there at 12th or 14th in the country."

Fourth-year Jessica Winter (see Spotlight) will set the pace for a stellar group of Maroons this year. As expected, third-years Dilshanie Perera, Vidthya Abraham, and Jackie Kropp and fourth-year Annie Sanders have finished in scoring positions for the Maroons so far this year. Second-year Hannah Moots and third-year Megan Myrick have held down the sixth and seventh positions, and should continue to do so.

Last year, many of the top runners on this team helped lead the Maroons to a third-place finish in the historically tough UAA championship meet. While the team suffered a serious loss with the graduation of former All-American Erin Steiner, Chicago appears to be making the adjustment with aplomb.

"We really felt this group would be in a position to help us out," Hall said. "They resemble the team we had two years ago [that finished 18th at the NCAA meet]. The way they are in practice, the progress they're making, they should be in a position to qualify at the Midwest Regional."

Five Midwest teams will advance to the Division III championships. Chicago is currently ranked behind only three, including their UAA competitor Washington University. The Bears, coming off a third-place finish at the NCAAs last fall, are currently ranked first, and will be heavily favored to win their fourth straight league title at the conference meet. Emory, currently ranked 25th, should also contend.

"Right now, I'm not putting the expectation on our women being the best team in the country," Hall said. "We're looking to finish second ahead of Emory, who beat us last year."