TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- A team full of Michigan natives gave Michigan State its first NCAA team championship in any women’s sport Saturday.
The top-ranked Spartans dominated the field with four runners in the top 25, posting a score of 85 to hold off a solid effort by second-place Iowa State (147). New Mexico was third, edging No. 2 Georgetown by a point.
Bringing home the university’s first title in the women’s side of the sport was something coach Walt Drenth has been building up to since taking over the women’s program in 2006.“I’m really proud of that, I’m more proud of the kids. The way they let go of all lot of things. The way they trust each other, the way they trust [the coaching staff],” Michigan State coach Drenth said.
Iona junior Kate Avery ran away from the competition after the first 1,000 meters of the 6,000-meter race and never looked back, finishing in 19 minutes, 31.6 seconds, 8.3 seconds ahead of runner-up Sarah Disanza of Wisconsin.
“I knew I wanted to run the race hard and I thought that would be my best chance of winning it,” said Avery, adding that she was “over the moon” with excitement. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”
Avery is the first Great Britain native to win a woman’s NCAA cross country title, and she finished just three seconds off the course record of three-time NCAA champion Sally Kipyego. She was unaware she had a chance at it.
“I wasn’t sprinting in,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘Don’t do anything silly. Just win. Just get there.' ”Emma Bates, last season’s runner-up, finished third in 19:44.5, and Michigan State’s Rachele Schulist was fourth.
Schuliste, only a sophomore, had finished behind senior Leah O’Connor in recent Spartans’ races, but she had a career day.
The focus was on the team all along though.
“It’s almost not even real life,” Schulist said. “Awesome, so special. It’s the best feeling in the world. It’s one thing to be ranked, but you still have to put the work and still have to do it.”
Conditions were 50 degrees with a strong headwind. The Spartans were prepared for anything, leaving home after training in snow for several days.
Drenth’s team began the season ranked sixth but didn’t lose a race all season.
"We did what we’ve done all year. They got in the run, stayed patient and ran well late. They stuck up for each other. Great team effort,” he said.
Junior Lindsay Clark (11th), O’Connor (19th) and senior Julia Otwell (21st) were also All-Americans for the Spartans.
Fourth-ranked Arkansas rounded out the top five, getting a sixth-place overall finish from Dominique Scott.
Crystal Nelson was seventh and Katy Moen eighth to pace the second-place Cyclones of Iowa State.