Women’s cross country wins NCAA title

Amanda Doyle

As junior cross country runner Amanda Marino crossed the finish line at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 23, her knee-jerk reaction was to think about the rest of her team.

“My first thought was to look back and see where the rest of the team was coming in,” Marino said. “First, I saw Sheila, then Bogdana, Ali and Nicole. I didn’t really see any other teams with that many people finishing. I just thought, ‘I really hope we won.'”

The women’s cross country team won National’s with five runners placing within the top 40 for All-American honors. Marino was the first member of the Wildcat squad to cross the finish line, coming in at sixth place with a time of 20:02.4. She was followed by junior Sheila Reid, clocking in at 20:16.3 for 13th place. Sophomore Bogdana Mimic finished at 22nd place with a time of 20:26.6, and junior Ali Smith took 24th place at 20:33.6. The teams last scorer was senior Nicole Schappert, who finished 26th with a time of 20:38.1 in her last race as a Wildcat.

Marino was not entirely surprised when Head Coach Gina Procaccio told her that the team won the NCAA title. Last year, the team came in sixth place at the race. The runners returned to the race this year knowing what they were getting themselves into.

“Coming into the season, in the back of my mind, I thought that a national championship was possible,” Marino said. “Last year, we were very inexperienced. We took of a bunch of runners who hadn’t been to national’s.”

One notable exemption from last season’s roster was Reid, who was redshirted after a surgery – the result of a torn labrum. She resumed running for last year’s indoor and outdoor track seasons, but Reid said she felt stale.

“I had surgery in April 2008 and took the ’08 [cross country] season off,” Reid said. “I had a not-so-great [outdoor] track season. It was frustrating for me. I worked really hard over the summer, and I was determined to do better.”

This fall, Reid set a new course record at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, placed first at the Big East Championship race and also won Mid-Atlantic Region Athlete of the Year. Not bad for a runner who hadn’t won a race in three years.

“I hadn’t won a race since high school,” Reid said. “It was a long drought. I was beginning to question if this was my thing or not.”

Reid had big shoes to fill after the team graduated senior Frances Koons last spring. She took on the leadership role of the team by communicating with her teammates at the beginning of the season. What she found is that they were all connected by a common goal, and each runner was willing to put in the effort to reach it.

She showed up to national’s this year with the experience from her 148th-place finish in the race her freshman year. Reid started on pace with runners who ended up winning the race. During the race, though, she got a side stitch cramp and had trouble breathing. She was encouraged by her teammate Marino.

“I used whatever breath I had to push Sheila,” Marino said. “The whole time I was running, the team was on my mind.”

The thought of the team as a whole was also a factor for Reid.

“It was not my best race,” she said. “It was just disappointing. But when I crossed the finish line, I totally forgot about my own race and got caught up in the team.”

The team’s excitement is justified – this is the first national championship in 11 years. It is also the first for Procaccio during her tenure as a head coach; she was an assistant during the 1998 win. She was rewarded for her team’s standout season by receiving Division I Cross Country Coach of the Year award.