Freese Wins Western Regional Race on Home Course to Qualify for Nationals

When Alicia Freese PO ’10 began the women’s cross country season hobbled with an injury, she knew that she needed to keep in shape as best as possible to prepare for the end of the year and a possible berth to the National Championship.Apparently, her rehab worked—and then some.Freese, in just her third race this season, won the Western Regional race held at Pomona on Nov. 14 with a time of 22:07.“Alicia ran a remarkable race,” said head coach Kirk Reynolds. “She moved up into the lead pack fairly early and then patiently picked off people until she was in third. Then, with about a quarter-mile left, she turned on her afterburners and pulled away from some very good runners. She’s so savvy. Her race instincts are spot-on, and it’s a great joy to watch her race.”The Claremont Double Tree was overrun last Friday with runners from colleges up and down the West Coast and as far inland as Colorado. D-III cross country teams in the West Region had traveled to Claremont in hopes of earning a berth to the National Championships in Cleveland, OH on Nov. 21. Although the Pomona-Pitzer women’s cross country team fell short of their goal to qualify as a team, individuals Freese and Rose Haag PO ’10 both earned spots to nationals by finishing among the top seven runners not on a qualifying team.The team finished fourth overall, only two points behind CMS, whom they had beaten two weeks earlier at the SCIAC Championships. The Athenas earned an at-large berth to Nationals, which means that the Sagehens barely missed a qualifying spot. On the bright side, the Hens were able to beat Occidental, which had won the SCIAC Championships.Freese’s victory in the West Region Championships was the first in P-P history, and the performance earned her the title of West Region Division-III Cross Country Athlete of the year.Freese went out with the lead pack at the gun, but ran a relatively conservative race and sat patiently near the back of the pack. While the other frontrunners may not have viewed her as a threat, Freese’s confidence allowed her to wait until the final downhill before she took the lead. The race finishes with a 200-meter stretch on the track, and by the time Freese’s shoes touched the familiar blue surface, she had already opened up a convincing gap between herself and the CMS and Whitworth runners behind her.“I had been planning to make my move a bit earlier on the last uphill sections, but things sped up more than I had predicted,” Freese said of the race’s final moments. “We had done a lot of workouts leading up to the race that involved the last mile of the race, so I was really ready to kill the last 400 meters. I worked on hitting the small uphill right before the track as hard as I could, which helped to open more of a gap.”The energy Freese expended was evident by her facial expression as she kept accelerating around the track toward the finish line. “Coming around the final turn, I had no idea how far ahead I was, and I was sort of expecting to see one of them out of the corner of my eye,” the senior said.Freese noted that having a home course advantage was really helpful. “The crowd really helped to propel me forward. One CMS athlete abandoned her allegiance to her school to scream wildly for me at the top of the final hill, and really helped give me the extra boost I needed to take the lead.”While Freese’s success in the race was remarkable, Rose Haag PO ’10 ran an outstanding race as well, and finished 14th overall in a time of 23:12. Because the NCAA chose to send an extra team above the two teams that automatically qualified, Haag was bumped into a qualifying spot by becoming the seventh individual not on a qualifying team to finish the race.“I’m very pleased to see Rose qualify individually to Nationals, too,” Reynolds said. Haag cites her consistent summer of injury-free training as the reason she was able to have a successful season.“She’s improved so much during her four years here, and this National Championship race will be the capper to a terrific collegiate cross country career,” Reynolds continued.Freese and Haag left Claremont on Thursday to travel to Cleveland for the National Championships. Both seniors have previously competed at Nationals and are excited about the opportunity to compete again this year. Freese is looking to become an All-American for the second straight year, while Haag is hoping to get a personal best and possibly become an All-American as well.Both women, however, travel with a touch of regret that their team is not able to join them. “It is great to go as an individual,” Haag commented. “But I don’t think any experience can match the awesomeness of making it to Nationals as a team and being able to compete one last time with my teammates that have been so incredible and helpful during the season.”Freese agreed that “going as a team last year was tons of fun, and I feel that the girls this year deserve it just as much. After all, we were only two points off of third place, which means that one flip-flop of a P-P runner with a CMS runner would have put us as the third place team.”

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