Collins makes history
Led by All-American, men take 17th place at NCAA Championships
The Virginia men's and women's cross country teams concluded their seasons yesterday at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., where redshirt junior Ryan Collins led the men to a 17th-place finish, and the women placed 21st overall.
At last year's national race, Collins finished 41st overall - one place shy of All-American status. With this bitter ending to the 2009 campaign in mind, Collins maintained all season long that his goal was to earn the All-American title that eluded him a year ago.
Collins finished the 10k course yesterday with a time of 30 minutes, 24.9 seconds, good for 32nd place and becoming just the sixth Cavalier ever to receive the All-American honor on the men's side.
"It's really special," Collins said. "It's a tough race and you never really know what's going to happen ... And after last year, getting 41st - the first guy that's not an All-American - it just kind of gave me a lot more drive this year. It just really means a lot to me."
Powered by Collins' performance, the men bounced back from their fourth-place finish at the ACC Championships and last week's disappointing sixth-place finish at Regionals, after which they dropped out of the national rankings for the first time all season. Virginia was the first Southeast Region team and second ACC team to place. Florida State finished runner-up to NCAA champion Oklahoma State.
Coming in second for the men was senior Emil Heineking, who finished in 71st place in 30:52.3. Redshirt sophomore Sean Keveren finished third for the Cavaliers, taking 82nd place in 30:57.7, while junior Sintayehu Taye claimed 107th in 31:16.2. Freshman Chris Foley finished for Virginia at 172nd-place. Nearly 250 athletes representing 31 schools competed in the race.
The meet marked Heineking's last cross country race, and he ends his career with the program as the first two-time All-American in the sport, the ninth conference athlete to win two ACC individual championships and just the second-ever Cavalier male to compete in four NCAA cross country championships. And although his presence surely will be missed next season, the team has full confidence in its returning young runners.
"Losing Emil is obviously a big loss," Collins said. "Every race that you go into you know he's going to perform and finish well and give his all to the finish line. But we just have to move past it and have some new guys step up ... Everyone else is coming back next year, and we have a lot of young talent."
The women, meanwhile, entered the race coming off a regional championship win for just the second time in program history. Leading the way for Virginia yesterday was redshirt senior Stephanie Garcia, who finished the 8k course in 84th place with a time of 21:13.8 seconds, ending her successful cross country career on a bittersweet note. The team's recent success proved to be a catch-22 of sorts - it increased the team's expectations heading into the national race but may also explain the runners' slightly disappointing 21st-place finish. Villanova captured the title, followed by runner-up Florida State.
"It's definitely not how we wanted to finish the season and not how I wanted to finish my career in cross country," Garcia said. "It was a hard day and a hard race. We just came off being regional champions only about eight or nine days ago, and I think it took it's toll on us ... Not everyone was on their 'A' game."
Coming in second for Virginia was sophomore Barbara Strehler, who placed 86th in 21:14.2. Junior Morgane Gay crossed the finish line next for the Cavaliers in 21:32.2, good for 126th place. Freshmen Katherine Walker and Ariel Karabinus finished 132nd and 182nd, respectively. All four runners will return next season, giving the team a seemingly bright future.
"If they can all stay healthy and train smart like they have been doing all year, they can be a really strong team," Garcia said. "I'm really confident about their future together"