Nov. 19, 2009

 

By John Schwarb
Special to NCAA.com


Can it be possible for Jessica Pixler to run without any pressure Saturday? Surely there’s something to chasing a feat never before accomplished in Division II women’s cross country.

“There’s not pressure, in the negative sense,” Seattle Pacific coach Erika Daligcon said. “It’s more like a celebration, in a way.”

At least that’s the hope for the Falcons at about 20 minutes past noon on Saturday at the NCAA Division II Women’s Cross Country Championships at the University of Southern Indiana. Pixler, a senior from Sammamish, Wash., has a chance at becoming the first to win a third consecutive NCAA Division II women’s title, adding to an already stocked trophy case that includes four indoor and two outdoor track titles.

The only request she makes of her team is a plain bagel before a race (“white bread doesn’t do the trick,” Daligcon said), then it’s time for business. Last year, she clocked 20 minutes, 59 seconds at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Slippery Rock, Penn., becoming the first woman to break 21 minutes on the 6k course—and that was in snowy conditions.

“It was really kind of amazing,” Pixler said at the time. “Even at the end, I felt good.”

Those vibes have continued throughout her senior season, including the West Regional two weeks ago at San Francisco, where Pixler won in a time of 20:08, 34 seconds ahead of Western Washington junior Amanda Porter.

“She’s feeling really strong, she’s been putting in her training and things are really moving in the right direction,” Daligcon said. “She’s definitely ready to make history.”

Whoever makes history will likely do it in far more favorable conditions than last year’s Pennsylvania snows. The forecast for Saturday afternoon in Evansville is about 60 degrees with partly cloudy skies and a small chance of rain.

Adams State (Alamosa, Colo.) is coming to Indiana with the mindset of making history, as usual. The Grizzlies have won the last six D II women’s titles and have 14 overall. At the Central Regional in Wayne, Neb., the team placed three runners in the top five and all five of its scorers in the top 14, led by runner-up Kristen McGlynn, a junior. Behind her in third place was freshman Alicia Nelson.

Adams State isn’t carrying the bulls-eye of the top-ranked team, however, having fallen from the top spot in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s rankings in October after 23 consecutive polls on top, dating to the 2007 preseason tally.

The top spot now is owned by Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.), which moved to the top Oct. 28 after a season-long stay at No. 2—and a runner-up finish in last year’s championships. The Lakers won the Midwest Regional at Kenosha, Wis., for the ninth consecutive year, taking five of the top eight spots. Junior Megan Maceratini led the team with a third-place effort of 21:53. D II Championship hosts Southern Indiana finished in second, 50 points behind GVSU.

Another team on the rise is Missouri Southern State (Joplin, Mo.), ranked No. 2 nationally. In winning their third straight South Central Regional title, the Lions set a record low for team points (18) by sweeping the top three spots plus owning the fifth- and seventh-place spots. Senior Kimi Shank avenged two years of runner-up finishes by winning the regional in 20:59.

The strongest region is the West, with four teams in the top 11 in the polls. Alaska-Anchorage is ranked third and comes in as the West Regional champions after a strong effort that included placing runners third, fourth and fifth. Only one of its five scoring runners is a senior. Finishing second at the meet was Chico State (Calif.), No. 5 nationally.

Seattle Pacific is sixth in the nation, and sees the benefit in having run in such a strong region.

“We know the schools that are the predictable top performers, our eyes are set toward racing them and seeing what this team can do,” Daligcon said. “Anything can happen on that day, which probably seems like a lame answer, but it’s so true. Last year, Chico had beaten us handily at regionals, then things turned around at nationals.”

Anything can happen, but the Falcons also hope that what has happened the last two years comes around more time—Pixler, first at the tape.