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SMC Cross Country: Belles place fourth at MIAA Jamboree

Joe Meixell | Monday, September 24, 2007

Saint Mary’s entered Saturday’s MIAA Jamboree with dreams of making this season the best in school history. It left with its goal one-third accomplished.

The fourth-place finish was the Belles’ best in their nine years in the MIAA, and because the Jamboree determines a third of the conference championship standings, the Belles are on the fast track to beating the program’s best-ever fifth-place finish from a season ago.

“[Saturday] was amazing,” third-year coach Jackie Bauters said. “I think it was especially rewarding for our returners who understand how huge it was to see that jump in the rankings.”

Senior Megan Gray, an all-conference runner, paced the Belles and finished sixth overall with a 20:00 time for the 5K course. She was the first runner not from Calvin – who swept the meet with the race’s five fastest times – to cross the finish line.

The Belles had two other runners finish in the top 20 – sophomore Megan McClowry (17th place, 21:10) and freshman Sam Wieczorek (20th, 21:23). Freshman Catie Salyer (25th, 21:55) and senior Olenka Bilyk (29th, 22:13) rounded out the scoring.

After Calvin’s 15 points, Hope (70) took second and Albion (71) captured third. Saint Mary’s 97 points were far clear of fifth-place Kalamazoo, which finished with 168 points.

“I’m thrilled that we were able to run as well as we did and accomplish our goal of finishing fourth,” Bauters said. “After the meet, we did talk about how we can try to close the gap at our next conference meet.”

After opening its season on the same course – in Angola, Mich., at Tri-State University – on Sept. 1 by winning the Tri-State Invitational, Bauters was confident her team’s familiarity with the track would be an advantage. The Belles hoped to use a team strategy of packing together to overtake its competitors.

“Many of the girls ran in small groups, which I feel did help them mentally,” Bauters said. “Almost everyone dropped a minute off their times from the beginning of September when we raced there – another great sign.”

The MIAA season concludes with the championship meet on Oct. 27.

“I really believe we can come within striking distance in October,” Bauters said. “We still have a long way to go before then, and the girls are not nearly peaking yet – so we have a lot to look forward to.”