Nov. 21, 2009

Western Washington's Porter Puts Up Inspired Runner-Up Performance

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Women's Combined Results
Men's Combined Results

By John Schwarb
Special to NCAA.com

EVANSVILLE, Ind.—The margin was eight seconds, allowing for a perfectly appropriate finish-line photo: Jessica Pixler, and no one else in sight.
    
The Seattle Pacific senior became the first woman to win three consecutive NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, closing out a fabulous career under pleasant, warm skies Saturday at the University of Southern Indiana.
    
Last week her coach, Erika Daligcon, claimed that Pixler’s final race wouldn’t be one of pressure but of celebration, and after finishing the 6k course in 20 minutes, 22 seconds, the runner agreed.
    
“For me, this has been a big day—not necessarily the whole winning, championship thing, but for me this is a big day because it’s the end of four of the best years of my life,” Pixler said.
    
Behind Pixler in second place was fellow West Region runner Sarah Porter, of Western Washington. Missouri Southern claimed the third and fourth overall spots, with junior Ashley Siler (20:43) and senior Kimi Shank (20:44).
    
For more than half the race, Pixler and Shippensburg (Penn.) sophomore Neely Spence were in lockstep, completing the first mile in a swift 5:06 and remaining together at the halfway mark. But around the 4k marker, before a hill climb, Spence faded quickly. She finished 43rd in 22:04.
    
“That was kind of like, ‘whoa.’ She was with me, then she wasn’t,” said Pixler, of Sammamish, Wash. “You never know what was going on, but she’s a good competitor.”
    
When it comes to race-day team competitors, Adams State continued to show that it shouldn’t be underestimated, even when the rankings say otherwise. The Grizzlies, of Alamosa, Colo., won the team title for the seventh consecutive year and 15th time overall.
    
Adams State surrendered the top spot in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s rankings in October after 23 consecutive polls at No. 1, dating to the 2007 preseason. In the final poll prior to the Championships, the Grizzlies were fourth.

Instead, Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.), took the top ranking to Evansville after winning the Midwest Regional for the ninth consecutive year. But in the championship, the Lakers couldn’t live up to the billing, scoring 81 points to finish second by eight to Adams State’s 73.
    
Freshman Alicia Nelson led the Grizzlies with seventh-place team points, and senior Vanessa Roy finished ninth among team runners. Grand Valley State, on the other hand, did not place anyone in the top 10.

“When you go through a long streak of winning, sometimes it seems like you’re a dominant team, and sometimes, you dodge a few bullets. This is one of those years,” coach Damon Martin said. “We weren’t very good at the beginning of the year, we got beat up a little bit, then we just started getting better and better. We had a lot of new kids that came in and contributed. They started learning about the culture and the history and the tradition. I think that eventually came into a performance like today.

“In a program like ours, the expectation is to do it every year. When they moved that far down (in the polls), they were like ‘uh, that just doesn’t seem right.’ They thought, ‘we can do better than that.’ That’s what they came out here today to try to do. I’m sure (the streak) will come to an end someday, but at the same time, when you run with that kind of urgency and motivation, it’s a strong thing. They’re not just going to go out and have a lackluster performance.”

That wasn’t the case for the Grizzlies and certainly not Pixler, who will forever be the first three-peat champion in D-II.
    
“It’s been a helluva ride,” she said.