Cross Country Teams To Defend NESCAC Titles

October 27, 2011

Amherst College will host the 2011 NESCAC Cross Country Championships this coming Saturday, Oct. 29, in Amherst, Mass. The annual meet, one of the longest-running events in conference history, gets underway Saturday morning with the women's 6-kilometer race at 11:00 a.m. followed by the men's 8-kilometer race at 12:00 p.m.

Looking to add another women's NESCAC trophy to the display case will be Middlebury. Of the Panthers' 11 conference crowns, nine have come in the last 13 years. After sharing the 2008 title with Williams for the second time in a decade, Middlebury won the championship outright in 2009 by a 10-point margin, then returned in 2010 and ran away with the title with a score of 26 as five Panther harriers finished among the top 10 at the championship. The 26 points were the lowest total for any squad at the annual event since official team scoring began in 1983. The Panthers have benefitted from a talented core group in recent years and 2011 appears to be no different. Leading the way for Middlebury has been the senior tandem of Margo Cramer (Seattle, Wash.) and Chelsea Ward-Waller (Washington, D.C.) along with junior Addie Tousley (Kensington, Md.). Tousley paced the Panthers at the annual Purple Valley Classic hosted by Williams on Sept. 24, as she finished second amongst the field of 202 runners to help Middlebury take top honors. Cramer, who was four seconds behind her junior teammate at the Purple Valley Classic, finishing third overall, led the defending national champions at the Open New England Championships on Oct. 8 (26th) and also at the Albany Invitational a week later (fifth). Ward-Waller has been third among her teammates at the Panthers' last two meets.

While Middlebury dominated the field in 2010 en route to a NESCAC title, 2011 brings a new challenge with a field full of familiar foes looking to unseat the Panthers. Amongst the teams that will be in contention for the championship will be Williams, Amherst, and Colby. The Ephs' 11 crowns are matched only by the Panthers for the most in meet history, however Williams last won the NESCAC championship when it shared the title with Middlebury in 2008. Williams finished second at last fall's meet for the second year in a row, 23 points behind Middlebury and 39 points ahead of Amherst. The Ephs are poised to make a run for the championship trophy this weekend following some strong showings this fall. After finishing as the runner-up to Middlebury at the Purple Valley Classic, Williams posted the best performance among Division III squads at the Open New England Championships on Oct. 8, finishing fourth overall. Heading up the pack for the Ephs have been first year Alison Smith (Chapel Hill, N.C.) and sophomore Chiara Del Piccolo (Basalt, Colo.). Smith posted the best time for her team at the Purple Valley Classic and Open New Englands. Del Piccolo was just seconds behind at both races before taking medalist honors at the Little Three Championships.

The only team not named Middlebury or Williams to win the NESCAC crown since 1996 is Amherst. The Jeffs earned the program's first title in 2006, then repeated in 2007 en route to winning the NCAA championship. After finishing third at each of the last two league meets, Amherst heads into the weekend having placed fourth out of 16 teams at the Purple Valley Classic and 10th out of 39 at Open New Englands. Colby has been a consistent top-five finisher at the championship since 2005, coming in fourth last year. Like the Jeffs, the Mules have two titles to their credit, however their last team championship came in 1994. Colby earned a seventh place showing at the Purple Valley Classic, placed 14th at Open New Englands, and won the 11-team Maine State Championship on Oct. 15.

Individual honors will be up for grabs among a wide-open field, as the top four finishers from last year's meet will not return this weekend. Among those that may be in contention for medalist honors will be the Middlebury tandem of Cramer and Tousley, Williams' duo of Del Piccolo and Smith, and a pair of juniors from Amherst, Keri Lambert (Amherst, Mass.) and Ali Simeone (Stoneham, Mass.). Although Lambert was 60th at the 2010 conference championship, she's enjoyed a fantastic fall, winning the Purple Valley Classic and finishing as the top Division III competitor at Open New Englands with a seventh-place performance. Simeone is the top returner from the 2010 meet after she placed fifth at Hamilton last October. The best time at the NESCAC championship has gone to a harrier from either Amherst or Williams in eight of the last nine years.

A year after posting the best finish in nearly two decades with a fourth-place performance, the Middlebury men's squad took it a step further in 2010 and won the NESCAC championship for the first time in the history of the race. The Panthers edged four-time defending champ Williams for the conference crown by 16 points with three runners in the top 10 - Michael Schmidt (second), Greg Krathwohl (seventh), and Jack Davies (ninth). All three individuals are back for Middlebury this season with Schmidt leading the way. At the Purple Valley Classic on Sept. 24, Schmidt came in second among the field of 197 harriers. A week later, Schmidt placed seventh at the Open New England Championships at Franklin Park in Boston. The Panthers, under first year head coach Nicole Wilkerson, have had an impressive fall that includes third-place performances at the Purple Valley Classic and Albany Invitational, a first-place showing at the Vermont State Championships, and coming in fourth at Open New Englands, the top performance among Division III teams.

Intent on preventing the Panthers from repeating as conference champions will be the team with more NESCAC titles than any other - Williams. Out of the 28 previous years that the meet has been held, the Ephs have won 12 times, taking their first crown in 1992 before putting together a dominating seven-year streak from 1994 to 2000 and then returning to the top of the conference mountain from 2006-09. Since 1994, Williams has finished outside the top two only once, placing fourth in 2001. The Ephs are in the midst of another great season with first-place performances at their own Purple Valley Classic, the McGill Invitational on Sept. 17, and the Little Three Championships on Oct. 15 along with a ninth-place finish at Open New Englands. Hoping to bring the NESCAC trophy back to the Purple Valley will be the senior trio of Jack Fitzhenry (New Brunswick, N.J.), Josephat Koima (Eldoret Rift Valley, Kenya), and Anthony Raduazo (Bolton, Mass.). The three have been among the leaders for Williams this fall.

Also looking to challenge for the championship will be Tufts, Wesleyan, and Bates. The Jumbos, whose three NESCAC titles all came between 2003-05, finished three points ahead of the Ephs at Open New Englands for eighth overall. Tufts took third at last year's league meet, and just 10 points behind the Jumbos were the Cardinals, who beat the Bobcats for fourth by a single point.

Probably the biggest question this weekend will be who will take individual honors in the men's race. Over the past 10 years, four individuals representing three NESCAC teams have combined to finish first at the meet highlighted by Hamilton's Peter Kosgei, who became the first runner to win the race four years in a row last fall. With Kosgei's departure due to graduation, a long list of potential candidates will be competing for medalist honors. Middlebury's Schmidt is the top returner from the 2010 championship, as he edged Koima of Williams for second by 0.8 seconds. Tufts junior Matt Rand (Cape Elizabeth, Maine) along with sophomores Tully Hannan (West Hartford, Conn.) of Bates, Coby Horowitz (Stow, Mass.) of Bowdoin, and Michael LeDuc (Canton, Conn.) of Connecticut College have all had stellar seasons, and all four were among the leaders at last year's meet.

Results from the NESCAC Cross Country Championships will be available on Saturday afternoon at www.nescac.com.

--courtesy NESCAC--