Team claims Southeast Regional
Squads advance to NCAA Championships; women win race for second time
The No. 12 Virginia women's cross country team left nothing to chance in its quest for a trip to the NCAA Championships as it claimed the Southeast Region Championship Saturday morning, earning an automatic bid to next week's national race. The No. 21 men's team, however, finished sixth at the regional race and had to wait until Sunday night's announcement of at-large bids to find out that they will accompany the women to Indiana next week to compete in NCAAs.
The women placed four runners in the top 25 - each of whom earned all-region honors - led by junior Morgane Gay, who finished in fourth place with a time of 20 minutes, 18.6 seconds. The race marked Gay's third straight all-region performance. Following closely behind was sophomore Barbara Strehler, who placed eighth with 20:26.5. Redshirt senior Stephanie Garcia crossed the finish line just four-tenths of a second later to finish in 10th place, becoming only the second Cavalier female to earn four regional awards during her collegiate career.
Virginia's fourth finisher was Katherine Walker - the second freshman finisher in the race - who took 17th with 20:59.6. Fellow freshman Ariel Karabinus rounded out the scoring five for Virginia by claiming 26th place in 21:11 - missing out on all-region honors by only one spot. With the victory, Virginia took the top spot in its region for the second time in program history. The women first accomplished the feat in 2008.
"We knew we were going to be at Nationals no matter what, but it was so much sweeter to get there by winning," Garcia said. "We had full confidence that we would be at Nationals and be at least one of the two teams to get an automatic spot ... This just really solidifies the fact that we are a really incredible team."
With the regional title, the women's team continues to exceed expectations - something Strehler attributes to team unity.
"The biggest thing for our team is that we all just get along really well," she said. "Also, we all really like to run; we like what we're doing."
The men's path to qualification was much less sweet and more nerve-racking, receiving an at-large bid after sputtering to a sixth-place finish. The Cavaliers found a silver lining in the performance of senior Emil Heineking, who became the first Cavalier male to earn All-Southeast Region honors four times.
Heineking finished the 10k race in 30:24.9, good for fifth place. Redshirt junior Ryan Collins placed second for Virginia and seventh overall with a time of 30:28.7, earning all-region honors for the third consecutive year.
The rest of the men did not fare so well, however. Redshirt sophomore Sean Keveren finished in 27th place in 31.18.8, while seniors Graham Tribble and Robbie Eckardt placed 69th and 79th, respectively. Indeed, the large gap separating the men's top two runners and back end runners has created problems for the squad all season. Against all odds and contrary to strong doubts within the team, however, Virginia's sixth place finish Saturday - combined with its achievements throughout the season - were good enough to earn the men their sixth straight trip to the NCAA Championships.
"Honestly I didn't think we had a shot at all to make it," Collins said. "Usually no team outside of the top four will get in, so I never thought we had a real shot ... The sixth-place finish was pretty disappointing, but in the end we made it to Nationals, which is the overall goal. We barely squeezed in, but it's still exciting that we are able to go."
The 2010 NCAA Championships will be held Nov. 22 at the Wabash Valley Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind.