Nov. 22, 2009

Watch Women's Race Live On Monday (12:58 p.m. ET)

By John Schwarb
Special to NCAA.com


How’s this for a cross country scheduling quirk—the University of Washington will race more in the state of Indiana than Washington in 2009.
    
But who’s going to argue with the results?
    
The 2008 NCAA Division I champions have laid strong groundwork for a repeat, completing an undefeated regular season and winning conference and regional titles. Two of those races have been in the Hoosier state, wins at the Notre Dame Invitational (in conjunction with a Huskies-Irish football game) and the Pre-National meet at Terre Haute, on the same LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center that will host Monday’s NCAA Division I Women’s Cross Country Championships (12:58 p.m. ET).
    
If familiarity breeds success, one would have to like the top-ranked Huskies’ chances.
    
“For the sophomores, it will be the fourth time they’ve run there (in Terre Haute). It will be (senior) Katie Follett’s eighth trip,” coach Greg Metcalf said. “We stay in the same hotel, eat in the same places, the same food the night before. It’s routine for our group, it helps our team stay more focused and relaxed.”
    
Last year, that especially helped Christine Babcock and Kendra Schaaf, the team’s flagship freshmen. Babcock finished fifth overall and Schaaf ninth, allowing the Huskies to outpace second-place Oregon, 79 points to 131. It was Washington’s first championship.
    
Now sophomores, Babcock and Schaaf have taken different paths back to the championships but both are ready to try for the repeat. Schaaf, of Craven, Saskatchewan, was injured in the Canadian championships after the cross country season, leading to a redshirt track season. But she rebounded in the Canadian summer competitions, winning junior titles in the 1500 meters and 3k, and then she won the West Region last weekend.
    
Babcock, of Irvine, Calif., has had a smoother road after an excellent track season, and figures to peak just in time.
    
“She’s been nothing but incredibly solid the entire fall,” Metcalf said. “Last year, the NCAA Championship was her best race without a doubt. With her emotional make up and who she is and what she’s all about, she just doesn’t get rattled by things, that’s why she’s once again prepared to run great on Monday.”
    
Just behind Washington in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association rankings is Villanova, the Mid Atlantic Regional champions. The Wildcats are led by junior Sheila Reid (Newmarket, Ontario), who completed the 6k regional in 20 minutes, 23 seconds to beat sophomore teammate Amanda Marino by four seconds.
    
Ironically, Villanova raced at Oregon on the weekend Washington was in South Bend., Ind., winning the Bill Dellinger Invitational and beating the then-No. 2 ranked Ducks in the process. Since then, Villanova has owned the second spot in the polls.
    
“Right now in this women’s battle, I’d say Villanova is a serious contender for sure,” Metcalf said.
    
Ranked third nationally is Princeton, which finished 54 points behind Villanova in the Mid Atlantic Regional. Then comes Oregon, which had the second- and fifth-place runners at the West Regional (Jordan Hasay and Nicole Blood, respectively), but as a team couldn’t top Washington.

“We had all our runners in the top 26 and that was a goal,” said Oregon associate athletic director Vin Lananna. “But we’ll have to wait until the nationals to see how good we really are. We will have to demonstrate all of our skills. We should have been better (at regionals), but the really big and important race is (Monday).”

South region foes Florida and Florida State, fierce rivals in every sport, should have a good intrastate battle at the Championships. The Gators are ranked fifth and the Seminoles eighth nationally, and Florida also was better at the South Regional championship, outpointing FSU 33 to 54. At last year’s NCAA Championships, Florida State was third and Florida was 17th.

Redshirt sophomore Rebecca Lowe, of Australia, won the South Regional for Florida, the first individual winner for the school since 1997.  

Of the nine runners named USTFCCCA Regional Athletes of the Year, four are from outside the United States. In addition to Schaaf, Reid and Lowe, there is a Norwegian—South Central Regional champion Silje Fjortoft. She finished 25 seconds ahead of the field at the region meet.