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On the weekend before Thanksgiving, over 250 of the nation's most accomplished Division I women cross country runners – including 31 of the top collegiate teams – journeyed to Terre Haute for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship Race. And when the pre-race days brought unrelenting rain followed by a hard freeze on race day eve, the Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course dished up a heaping helping of good old fashioned cross country – temperatures in the low 20’s, a bitter northern wind, extended patches of shoe-sucking pudding-like mud, and a side dish of standing water. In other words, it was just the type of nasty weather smorgasbord that makes old school cross country purists smile.

Undaunted by the weather, Iona’s Kate Avery got right after it, jumping out to a quick lead at the mile mark as a bunched chase pack – fronted by Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino and Boise State’s Emma Bates – stalked from 30 meters off the pace. Avery’s pace-setting went unchallenged over the next 2K as the chase pack – now joined by Villanova’s Emily Lipari and Stanford’s Aisling Cuffe – seemed content to bide its time. Around the 3K mark, D’Agostino and Bates set sail in tandem in a quest to reel in the Iona sophomore. Patiently closing the gap, the duo caught Avery at the 4K mark. Working the uphill and aided by a now-favorable tailwind, the Dartmouth senior steadily pulled away from Bates – now second – and Avery – hanging on in third. As the trio, rounded onto the final 400 meter straightaway, D’Agostino – now in full flight with a 30 meter lead – savored her coronation march to the finish line, her first national collegiate cross country victory [20:00.3], and her 5th overall NCAA individual title. Bates – the West Regional champion – finished powerfully to capture the runner-up position [20:03.9] while Avery hung on gamely for 3rd [20:05.4]. Cuffe emerged strongly from the chase pack to get up for 4th [20:09.3]. And Emily Lipari – the Mid-Atlantic Regional champion – finished in 20:10.8 to round out the top 5.
After the race, mud-splattered front-runners offered insight on the championship race. Avery – the early protagonist – disavowed any calculated plan to steal the early lead. "What I did was not the strategy. I just ended up at the front. I had no intention of going for it. The start at the front end of the girls' race is just unbelievable,” the Iona sophomore explained. “In the back of my mind, I always want to win. But I knew Abbey was coming for me."

Bates was elated with her second place finish. "I just wanted to stick with Abbey as long as I could. I tried to run with a short stride and just keep pumping away,” offered the Boise State junior. “I wanted to stick with her just a little bit longer. But when she [D’Agostino] pulls away, she really pulls away. She wasn't messing around."

"The race plan going in was just to stay with the pack and then evaluate at 4K,” D’Agostino explained. The new champion wasn’t worried about Avery’s early lead. "We had talked about that and we knew that had happened before when I was a sophomore here. We just kinda eased our way up and the gap was closing. The pace didn't feel out of control to me. And I knew there was 2K to do it. So it just had to be gradual." Asked how it feels to have captured her 5th individual NCAA title, the beaming victor didn’t hesitate. “It feels great.”

The team race produced no real surprises. Providence’s point total of 141 comfortably earned the Lady Friars their first team title since 1995. Emily Sisson’s overall 7th place performance [20:17.5] led the winners to a 5-16-24-42-54 team finish. Arizona – turning in a rare pinnacle performance by a warm weather school under icy conditions – finished second. Hoosier favorite Butler, Michigan, and Georgetown rounded out the top 5 teams.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

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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