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Matthew Semisch | NCAA.com | March 12, 2014

Despite easy conference win, Wis.-La Crosse faces tough road in national meet

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Wisconsin-La Crosse’s women’s indoor track & field team appears to be one of the groups to beat going into this weekend’s Division III indoor championships, just as the Eagles’ men are.

One of the things that will set the women’s competition in Lincoln, Neb. apart, though, is that while the UW-L men go in somewhat comfortable favorites to win the men’s team title, things are looking more wide-open on the women’s side.

The good news for the Eagle women is that they’re coming into this weekend’s event at the Bob Devaney Sports Center hot. UW-L won its second consecutive Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference indoor title Feb. 28 and Mar. 1, which marked the school’s league-record 22nd league championship.

La Crosse finished the WIAC meet with 207 points, well ahead of current DIII No. 2 and defending indoor national champion Wisconsin-Oshkosh in second on 134.

The not-so-good news for UW-L heading into this weekend is that, although the Eagles ran away with the WIAC title in Whitewater, Wis., the competition in Lincoln looks stiffer.

La Crosse is only 14 points ahead of second-place Oshkosh in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association rankings, which were released Monday. The top three are all bunched in tight, in fact, as only 16.09 points separate UW-L at the top from preseason indoor favorite and defending national outdoor champion Wartburg in third.

One more thing that could work in the Eagles’ favor, though, is that since 2010, each of the four women’s teams that finished the regular indoor season atop the USTFCCCA’s DIII rankings then went on to win the national team title. Wartburg (2010, 2012) and Wisconsin-Oshkosh (2011, '13) have both done that twice.

Speaking of Oshkosh, the Titans won their eighth national indoor title last year in Naperville, Ill. on the back of five first-place finishes.

Then-junior Christy Cazzola picked up three of them. In a span of just two hours, Cazzola won the D-III women’s indoor mile run competition for the second year running and then came from behind in the final lap to win the 5,000-meter race.

Cazzola was also a part of UW-Oshkosh’s four-woman team that won the distance medley relay event. Oshkosh ended up winning the 2013 women’s team title with 56 points, ahead of Illinois College in second place on 32 and UW-L in third on 27.

Now in her senior season, Cazzola will be in Lincoln to defend her mile run and distance medley relay titles. She will also take part in the 3,000-meter event, but won’t run in the 5,000 meters.

The Titans’ distance medley team has the fasted time this year of any of the 12 women’s teams taking part in that event in Lincoln. UW-Oshkosh’s medley team’s best time so far this season is 11:43.60, more than a second faster than the season-best from the women’s medley team from Bates.

Cazzola is one of 12 female student-athletes UW-O is taking to Lincoln. It’s the second-largest contingent in the women’s indoor national championships this year, only behind the 13 UW-La Crosse is taking.

The Wartburg Knights, champions of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, will also feature 12 female student-athletes at Devaney.

Wisconsin-Whitewater’s women’s team enters the national championships fourth in the USTFCCCA rankings, although almost 50 points behind Wartburg. Wheaton (Mass.) is fifth, and MIT, Williams, Wisconsin-Stout, Washington (Mo.) and Illinois Wesleyan round out the national top 10.

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