Nov. 19, 2010

 

By James Briggs
Special to NCAA.com


Status quo isnt normally something a team strives for. But the Wisconsin-Eau Claire womens cross country team hopes to stay exactly where it is.

The team showed steady improvements in each of Coach Dan Schwamberger's first three seasons, but there's nowhere left to climb after Wisconsin-Eau Claire finished eighth in the nation in 2007; fifth in 2008 and won the national title last year.

The Blugolds hope to repeat Saturday at the NCAA Division III championships at Waverly, Iowa. The meet begins at noon (CST).

It really has been kind of a steady progression,” Schwamberger said. The team was very strong when I first started. Each year, it's been kind of neat that we've bumped up a little bit.”

Of course, any bumping this year would mean moving down a notch — an outcome Schwamberger hopes to avoid.

I think top-four is real possible,” he said. When you get to the top four, anything can happen.”

Wisconsin-Eau Claire is led by a trio of runners who have learned to stick together during meets. Senior Margaret Ho, senior Elly Prunty and junior Alyssa Sybilrud have formed a bond that has kept the Blugolds among the top challengers for a national championship.

It has not necessarily been the plan, but as the races have gone on, they've been there together,” Schwamberger said. They've given each other confidence. When one is feeling a little down, the other can pick up the slack and pull them along.”

Ho, who finished eighth in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship meet, said the teamwork has made each runner stronger and more competitive.

It helps so much to have teammates to run with during the race,” she said. My goal is to always know where my teammates are during the race and communicate with each other. That support is so much better — it makes the race go by faster, too, which always helps.”

While some teams might not want to discuss winning a championship, Wisconsin-Eau Claire has no problem setting its sights high, Ho said.

Our ideal goal is definitely to repeat this year,” she said. I think its realistic.”

Schwamberger, though, doesnt want the weight from last years performance to holding down his runners Saturday.

The big thing with this years team is I dont want them to put pressure on themselves from last year,” he said. Were a really good team going in, but this year is this year, and we have to focus on each race.”

The Blugolds won their conference championship for the fourth straight season, and also won the Midwest Regional. Wisconsin-Eau Claire is running exactly how it wants to toward the end of the season.

Ive been happy, because the last few races weve run stronger,” Schwamberger said. The conference went well, regionals went well - I think its definitely given the women confidence heading into Saturday.”

The team is finishing well on the strength of Ho, Prunty and Sybilrud. If those three can continue pushing one another toward a faster finish, Schwamberger thinks the Blugolds have a solid chance.

Those three did a really good job doing what they needed to do,” he said. Theyve worked together and finished strong. Hopefully, if they can run that kind of race Saturday, I think well be very happy with the results.”