Nov. 21, 2009

D-III Notebook

By Jason Lloyd
Special to NCAA.com

   
CLEVELAND -- The first call Wendy Pavlus made after crossing the finish line was to her high school coach, Amy Farrell. After all, it was Farrell who convinced Pavlus to bypass Division I scholarships for St. Lawrence, her own alma mater.
   
"She told me, `If you go Division III, I think you can be a national champion someday,'" Pavlus said.
 
Saturday was that day.
   
Pavlus, a junior, started strong and held the lead in winning the Division III women's cross country championship on Saturday in a course-record time of 21 minutes, 28 seconds. She was 17.8 seconds faster than last year's winner, Marie Borner of Bethel (Minn.), who needed a strong kick at the finish to take second.
   
Pavlus, a junior, has advanced to nationals all three years. She was 50th as a freshman and 20th last season, when a poor start had her trapped among the masses.
   
"I really wanted to get out hard because last year I didn't get out hard enough and I got caught up in the group," Pavlus said. "I was so far back, I was not in good enough position to reach any of my goals. A lot of my teammates had the same thing. We learned a lot from last year. We came back and did things better this year."
   
Pavlus' win keyed St. Lawrence to a second-place finish in the team division, nine points behind champions Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The national title was the second in school history, but the first in Division III - the 1984 team won an NAIA championship.
   
"We've been talking about this as our goal all year," Wisconsin-Eau Claire coach Dan Schwamberger said. "We wanted to finish in the top five, but we knew if we were in the top five, anything was possible."
   
Sophomore Alyssa Sybilrud was the Blugolds' top finisher in 21st place. Junior Margaret Ho (33rd) was also an All-American. Junior Beth Easker (44th), senior Hannah Humbach (45th) and senior Jenna Smith (109th) rounded out Wisconsin-Eau Claire's scoring.
   
"Our top three runners have changed spots all year long and our top five are interchangeable," Schwamberger said. "This was a true team effort."
   
Borner didn't know much about Pavlus and was surprised by her strong start. Pavlus had about a 10-meter lead after the first 1,000 meters. That grew to about 25 meters halfway through the race.
   
"I thought the race would go out slow. That's what I was banking on," Borner said. "I was waiting for her to start fading back, but she was strong. I was surprised."
   
Senior Ayla Mitchell (Wisconsin-Oshkosh) was third, followed by DePauw senior Lauren Reich and Oberlin junior Joanna Johnson.
 
Borner was running fourth until the final 40 meters, when a strong push allowed her to pass Reich and Mitchell.
 
Mitchell finished third for the second straight year. She charged to catch Pavlus for the lead with about 600 meters to go, but exhausted all of her energy and faded. Borner ultimately caught her at the finish line for second place.
   
"I'm OK with it," Mitchell said of finishing third twice. "I caught (Pavlus) at one point and we were running side-by-side. Then she moved and I died. I didn't go with her."
   
Sporadic rain throughout the week left the Highland Hills Golf Course, home to Baldwin-Wallace College, soggy on a cool 51-degree day. The runners enjoyed that it was dry, and the mud was only a slight hindrance.
   
"The weather favored us," Pavlus said. "We talked about it being muddy all week. We were planning on it. Being from New York, we have a lot of rainy, muddy meets. You just have to have fun with it."