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2016 NCAA Div. I Women’s Cross Country Championships

Schweizer, Oregon Are Upset Victors

Terre Haute, Indiana

The 2016 women's NCAA cross country championship competition kicked off a race day that was full of surprises and underscored the often-overlooked importance of total team performance.

With temperatures in the mid 30's and stubborn, powerful gusting driving wind chills into the teens, some 250 finalists answered the gun at Terre Haute's Lavern Gibson Championship Course. Leading a tightly-bunched field, Michigan senior Erin Finn and Notre Dame sophomore Anna Rohrer hit 1K in 3:10. At 2K, Rohrer – always striving to push the race pace – was up front, with Finn a half step back, and the New Mexico duo of Alice Wright and Calli Thackery rounding out the top four. After racing past 3K in 9:50 and stringing out the field, Rohrer – who placed 6th in last year's championship race – soon signaled the start of earnest racing as she tossed in a downhill surge just before 5K [passed in 16:20] in an effort to break away, leaving Finn and Boise State sophomore Brenna Peloquin 10 meters back with another duo – Kansas sophomore Sharon Lokedi and Missouri junior Karissa Schweizer – back yet another 10 meters. After the leaders turned into a biting headwind for the long final drive to the finish, Midwest Regional Champion Schweizer – who had moved into 3rd yet still down 20 meters with 300m to go – began her drive. Witnessing Rohrer and Finn beginning to falter against the gale energized Schweizer as she caught and promptly passed the struggling duo with just 100 meters remaining. Neither could respond to the Tiger’s finishing sprint. The exuberant surprise winner crossed the line in 19:41.6 – #9 on the course’s all-time list. The new champion was followed by her spent competitors – Finn [19:44.2] and Rohrer [19:44.6].

Meanwhile, the women's team race created its own surprising drama – ultimately affirming that a fully-performing squad is the key to a national team title. Favored Colorado – which had handily won the Mountain Regional with a cruise-control tight-pack strategy – came up short when Erin Clark, 11th in last year's championship, had a bad day at the office, struggling home 105th as the Buffaloes' final finisher. Simply an expected performance in the top 24 by its senior leader would have secured the team title for the Colorado women who totaled 134 points – 9 behind team champion Oregon.

An analysis of the team victory by Oregon [4-9-16-47-49=125] – a 1 point win over runner-up Michigan [2-13-24-37-50=126] – reveals not only how close the team battle was, but also the importance of every one of each team's scoring members. After a 6000 meter battle and buried in a covey of finishing athletes, Maggie Schmaedick – the Ducks fifth finisher – capped a maniacal race-ending sprint by crossing the finish line to just edge the Wolverines' final scorer by only 1/10th of second. Had that 1½ foot blanket finish been reversed, Michigan takes the team title by a point.

"I thought we could break 200 points and get a trophy,” proclaimed an ecstatic Maurica Powell. “Going into the race we had three really good front runners. I hoped we'd be top 4, but 125 points blows my mind," said the Oregon women’s assistant coach. “I saw them at 2K and told them, 'Guys, we're winning. Just stay where you are. We're in great position. Just stay calm.' At 4K, I think I yelled, "Guys, we're winning. Don't do anything stupid,'" laughed Powell.

"We were 5-for-5. I mean every kid we lined up today had an incredible race,” explained Powell who relished the win by her 12th ranked Ducks – the lowest-ranking team in NCAA history to win a national title. “I couldn't be prouder of these kids." Before turning to join her celebrating athletes, the Duck coach added, “We were only 4th in the PAC-12 and 4th in our region, but if you have three front-runners at this meet, it gets you something.” And on a championship day full of surprises, that something proved to be an unexpected NCAA cross country team championship for the women of Oregon.

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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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