Iona’s Kate Avery Wins NCAA Title

By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

HAUTE, IND. (22-Nov) — On a cloudy, blustery day in Cross Country Town
USA, pre-race favorites Kate Avery of Iona College and the women of
Michigan State ran to their first national titles here at the NCAA
Division I Cross Country National Championships. Triumphing in dominant
fashion, both were overcome with emotion shortly after crossing the


Twelve months ago, Iona
College’s Avery made a valiant attempt to win her first NCAA cross
country title, taking the lead early on, despite less than ideal
conditions. Thoughts of last year’s race –where she’d get passed by
eventual champion Abbey D’Agostino and runner-up Emma Bates– fueled
the Briton as she toed the line here today with teammates by her side.

knew if I wanted to have a good chance of winning that I was going to
run it hard. I didn’t want to leave it up to the sprint finishers, I
didn’t want to go out slow,” Avery told Race Results Weekly, speaking
in a thick English accent.

Through the mile in 5:13, Avery knew
the pace was fast, yet felt comfortable. After taking fourth at the
Commonwealth Games 10,000m on the track in July, Avery rested and
didn’t open her cross country season until the Metro Atlantic Athletic
Conference (MAAC) Championships on October 31, which she won by one
minute and 42 seconds. At last weekend’s Northeast Regional –her
second cross country meet of 2014– she toasted the field with a
winning margin of 23 seconds.

Racing today with fresher legs
than a majority of her competitors, Avery knew she had the strength
necessary to take the top spot. Through two kilometers, she was joined
closely by Arkansas’s Dominique Scott, Boise State’s Bates, and Arizona
State’s Shelby Houlihan.

“We got to 2-K really fast and the
girls kind of eased off and I was like I’m not doing that because that
leaves it up to questions. I wanted it to be a true hard race,” she

Shortly thereafter, Avery took off and never looked back.
Hitting 5-K in 16:03, Avery had close to a 50-meter lead. That lead
would stay comfortable through the course’s latter stages, as Avery
traversed the subtle uphills all by herself. The biggest challenge
would come from the elements down the final 500 meter long straightaway.

was just, like, ‘Get to [the] finish, get to the home-straight and
finish it off.’ It was so hard the last finishing straight with the
wind in your face. I was like just get there!” said Avery, putting a
long emphasis on the word “so,” and shivering slightly from the cold.

the line in 19:31.6, Avery became the ninth foreign athlete since 2004
to win the title. Hailing from Newton Aycliffe, England, she is the
first British-born women’s champion since 1995 (Kathy Butler, then
competing for Wisconsin, was born in Britain but was then competing as
a Canadian).

“Oh my God, I can’t believe it! I knew I was
running well and stuff, but I don’t know,” she said, pausing ever so
briefly to put the win in perspective. “It’s unbelievable. It’s just
happened and it hasn’t sunk in. I don’t know — I was just running
scared kinda again and saying ‘Get to the finish line!'”

the win extra special was the fact that Avery’s Iona teammates competed
here today, finishing ninth. A large contingent of Iona
student-athletes drove 15 hours through the night from New Rochelle,
N.Y., to attend the meet and cheer for their teammates. Four shirtless
men ran around the spectator area of the course, carrying four
one-letter flags spelling I-O-N-A.

“There’s so many people
here,” Avery said with a grand smile, gesturing to a group of men
holding the flags. “We’ve got loads of support with us here today.”

Avery, Wisconsin sophomore Sarah Disanza finished a surprising second
in 19:39.9, followed by Boise State’s Bates (19:44.5), and Michigan
State’s Rachele Schulist (19:54.3). Fifth through seventh went to a
trio of pre-meet favorites: Baylor’s Rachel Johnson (19:56.8),
Arkansas’s Scott (20:01.3), and Iowa State’s Crystal Nelson (20:08.5).
Arizona State senior Houlihan crossed the line in 20:11.4, taking ninth

Top freshman honors went to Stanford’s Elise Cranny, 12th in 20:17.0.


yesterday’s pre-race press conference, Michigan State senior Leah
O’Connor and Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Walt
Drenth spoke to the media with a mixture of eagerness and serenity.
Both knew what a national title would mean to their program, and how a
win here would bring their season full circle. A team that included six
of their seven runners from the state of Michigan and five fifth-year
seniors all wanted to go out on top.

That’s just what the Spartans did, earning a commanding victory with 85 points to complete an undefeated season.

the squad was sophomore Schulist, the only Spartan to crack the top ten
with a fourth place finish in 19:54.3. Junior Lindsay Clark was 11th in
20:16.0, followed by fifth-year seniors Leah O’Connor (17th, 20:20.8),
Julia Otwell (21st, 20:29.5), and Sara Kroll (61st, 20:56.7). Rounding
out the team were sophomore Alexis Wiersma (69th, 21:01.0) and Katie
Landwehr (119th, 21:21.8).

“Amazing! You can’t beat this. You
see this? These are the best girls in the world,” said Schulist,
speaking to Race Results Weekly surrounded by teammates, family, and
fans. “They’re just amazing. I just love our team. We just work
together and take care of each other. We care about each other and
that’s what makes us. There’s so much love, so much love. I love it.”

Although she had a self-described bad race, O’Connor was brought to tears in recapping the season’s journey with her teammates.

were crying as soon as we crossed the line pretty much. We knew we put
it all out there, and it was so fun. I felt terrible but I didn’t care
because that was amazing and it didn’t matter. It was all about the
team. Wow. I don’t want it to be over to be honest,” said O’Connor, a
tear falling down her cheek and a skull-and-crossbones ribbon in her
hair. “This is a bond that will never be broken.”

The Spartans
were never challenged, earning a comfortable 62-point victory over
runner-up Iowa State (147 points). New Mexico, who entered today’s meet
ranked ninth in the country, ran very well to finish third with 188

But, the day belonged to the Spartans.

“What a
great group of people,” said an emotional Coach Drenth speaking to
reporters. “I mean, it’s just so much fun to watch, and they were
all-in today. I don’t think there was any hesitation in anything we
did. I thought we were great as a team, I thought… every time we got
into trouble we figured our way out of it. You know, Leah fell off that
front group and never really lost her poise, and then to have her
teammates pick her up. What an effort by the whole group. I think Katie
was in the low 100’s and she was our seventh. That’s what we talked
about: Just let’s see how good we can be and let it turn out.”

Kate Avery with a commanding lead at the 2014 NCAA Division I Cross
Country Championships; she would win by four seconds

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