Top Sagehen Runners Shine at Nationals

Claremont may have been brisk and clear the weekend before Thanksgiving, but it was much brisker in Winneconne, WI, home of the 2011 Division III NCAA Cross Country Championships. Hundreds of athletes—representing 32 of the finest teams in the nation or having earned their way to Nationals as individuals—converged upon the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh golf course on Nov. 19, all aiming to place successful capstones on their seasons.

While normally a team relegated to competition in Southern California, Pomona-Pitzer found itself on national display with Sagehen runners Alex Johnson PZ ’13, Anders Crabo PO ’12, and Annie Lydens PO ’13 at the meet. Just one week after the NCAA Division III West Regional Championships, the three Hens were still running on the momentum of their strong regional finishes. Johnson and Crabo both finished in the top ten of West Region individual finishers; Johnson crossed the 8K finish line in 25:41, with Crabo right behind him in 25:42. This earned Johnson his second trip to “Natties,” as he competed in Iowa last fall. Lydens joined Johnson and Crabo as the only national qualifier from the women’s cross country team. After placing ninth at Nationals in 2010 and beating the competition by seven seconds at Regionals, Lydens felt confident in her ability to run a strong race in Wisconsin.

As the competitors lined up to begin their race in Wisconsin, sleepy women huddled around laptops back in Claremont to watch a live broadcast of the race, hoping to witness their favorite Nationals qualifier race to victory. Though the video featured an atrocious announcer and more shots of the spectators and scenery than the competitors, Lydens’ Sagehen supporters still caught glimpses of her strong race and spectacular finish. Lydens stuck with the crowded front pack at the beginning of the race, crossing the first mile mark in 16th. By the second mile, Lydens strategically worked her way up to 5th, and she ran a 5:35 third mile to move into third. She held her position for the remaining 1,000 meters to finish third out of 277 women. Lydens ran a 6K personal record of 21:02, and replaced Crosby Freeman PO ’06 as the the highest finisher in all of P-P cross country history—men’s or women’s.

“It was fun to run in a really competitive field and be challenged,” Lydens said. “I’m very pleased with how the race went.”

Chiara Del Piccolo of Williams College won the women’s race in a time of 20:51, followed by Christy Cazzola of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 20:57 and Lydens just five seconds later.

Lydens will continue racing in the spring track season, running the 5,000-meter and 1,500-meter races. Last year, Lydens raced in both events at the NCAA Division III National Championship meet. But Lydens is already looking ahead to next fall.

“I’m looking forward to breaking that 21-minute barrier,” she grinned.

The gun sounded again an hour later to signal the start of the men’s 8K, and the pack went out—fast. Ben Sathre of the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) took the early lead, bringing the pack through the first mile at a 4:34 pace that was as brisk as the weather was cold. Over the next 23 minutes, he refused to relinquish this lead; doing all the work from the front—he was the first man to cross the two-, three-, and four-mile markers. Ultimately, Sathre could still be seen leading the string of weary pursuers to the finish line. Exhausted but exhilarated, he broke the tape in 23:44, having averaged 4:47 per mile over 8,000 meters.

Johnson finished in 26:01—good for 212th place—and Crabo was not far back in 237th place with a time of 26:12. Meanwhile, other representatives from SCIAC ran respectably as well, as strong individual performances led Occidental and CMS to top-30 team finishes.

“You know, it’s my second time here, but it’s just as incredible this time as it was last,” Johnson said of the experience. “The competition is incredible, and it’s great to see so much effort put into this one high-profile meet. Kinda makes cross country actually feel like a real sport for once.”

Crabo, too, was pleased overall with his performance at Nationals, remarking.

“Yeah, I mean it wasn’t my best time—it’s tough to hold top form over the course of such a long season,” he explained. “I told myself and a lot of other guys [on PPXC] at the start of the season that when it came down to Raddies [a local running route] or Natties, I’d pick the latter. I’m glad I stepped up—put the team on my back, one might say—such that I got to end my four years of cross country here with an individual Nationals qualification. Makes me really look forward to track, and defending my [three] previous SCIAC titles [in the 3,000-meter steeplechase]. And though it wasn’t the best day, you just gotta remember to not lose sight of things.”

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