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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Heading into the championship weekend, Michigan State University had captured eight NCAA cross country championship trophies. Every one of them had been won by the men's team. But at this year's 2014 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships held on the state-of-the-art Gibson course in Terre Haute, the MSU women made their first contribution to their school's rich championship tradition when the Lady Spartans scored 85 points to claim the national crown.  "It's the first NCAA team title that Michigan State has won in any women's sport," exclaimed an elated Walt Drenth, the Spartan's head coach.
 
The Great Lakes regional champions completed their season undefeated as their first four finishers – led by sophomore Rachel Schulist – captured team-race places 4,9,13, and 16.  The battle for the team title really had only one brief moment of drama as the Spartan's top 4 waited breathlessly in the finishing chute for an eternity-like 27 seconds for the fifth runner – 2012 Big Ten champion Sara Kroll – to cross the line in 43rd place to seal the historic win.  Midwest regional champ Iowa State [147] – which earned low sticks when Cyclones finishing 7-8 – claimed the 2nd place team trophy. And West regional runner-up New Mexico [188] surprised by nipping Georgetown – the Mid-Atlantic regional winner – by a point for third. 
 
Savvy coaching had the Lady Spartans well prepared.  "We knew there was going to be more attention, more media," explained Leah O'Connor, MSU’s third finisher.  "But Drenth prepared us for it.  So it was just like any other week."  Schulist explained that the team strived to keep it simple.  "We just do what we do – same thing we've been doing all season.  We didn't get here by magic."
 
Iona junior Kate Avery, employing the front running tactic that earned her 3rd place in last year's championship race, broke away shortly after the 1K mark and was never challenged as she scampered away to win the individual crown in 19:31.6.  Wisconsin sophomore Sarah Disanza [19:39.9] ran an impressive final 2 kilometers to get up for second, followed by Boise State's Emma Bates [19:44.5] and MSU's Schulist [19:54.3].
 
"I thought we were pretty good," Drenth understated.  "We had 4 in the top 21 overall. And we really kept our poise and did a really good job of running late.  I thought we were running by people almost from the 3000 meter mark all the way to the finish line.  They followed the race plan.  They were tough," Drenth explained.  The MSU coach offered insight into the success of his championship-winning team.  "They just followed a model that they created at the beginning of the year.  Frankly, they started the model when we were here [at the 2013 championship race] last year.  This is just an extension of their growth."
 
Drenth admitted he'll need to time to put the Spartan's historic team crown in proper perspective.  "I think it will have to sink in," he said.  But he was quick to recognize the singular importance of capturing the first women's NCAA team title in the history of Michigan State University.   “It's quite an honor.  Michigan State is a great place.  And I'm proud to be a part of it."
 
In Friday's pre-race press conference, Coach Drenth confessed his propensity to shy away from extensive social interaction.  In the afterglow of the impressive victory by his women's team, when asked how a self-proclaimed "social recluse" would  celebrate MSU's ground breaking national championship win, the Spartan leader said,  "I've got to figure that out.  I don't know. I'm going to probably go home and have a big glass of wine.  I'll really celebrate it with the kids.  It's their deal.  I'm just fortunate to be along for the ride."   And a perfect, undefeated, championship ride at that.

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