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SMC CROSS COUNTRY: Belles take fifth in MIAA championships

Becki Dorner | Monday, October 30, 2006

Megan Gray posted the best individual finish by a Belle harrier Saturday at the MIAA Championships, leading the team to a fifth-place finish in the conference meet at Alma College.

Gray’s time of 23:44 on the 6K course earned her sixth place and a spot on first-team MIAA. Her performance was a history-breaking one – since the 1998 season, when Saint Mary’s cross country first joined the MIAA, no Belle has ever finished in the top ten at the conference contest.

Sara Otto also turned in a stellar performance, earning second-team MIAA honors with a time of 25:11, good enough for 14th place in the overall individual competition.

Rounding out the top five for the Belles was Megan McClowry with a 27:00 mark for 32nd place, followed closely by Emily Graf in 35th with a 27:20 time and Caitlin Stevenson in 38th at 27:39.

Sara Otto said that a fellow teammate really stepped up.

“I was especially pleased with one of our first-years, Emily Graf, who ran fourth for the team,” she said. “She’s worked hard throughout the season, but I feel she really stepped it up in this meet to help contribute to the team.”

The Belles runners did well to stick together, Belles coach Jackie Bauters said.

“The pack needed to move up in order to compete with Kalamazoo and Albion more,” she said. “They had real solid packs together ahead of our [third to fifth-place runners].”

Yet the teamwork that had become the team’s goal was realized with the third to ninth Belles runners packing very well.

Despite her stellar time, Gray said that she and her other team members didn’t watch their times.

“[We] weren’t really worried too much about times,” she said. “Our goal was to position ourselves well individually in order to place well as a team.”

As a team, the Belles’ fifth-place finish ties last year’s mark. Calvin once again took the team crown and swept the top five spots.

Calvin was led by Camille Medema with a time of 22:58, followed by Christina Overbeck, Lydia Singer, Calah Schlabach and Lauren Bergstrom. Hope College came in second, followed by Kalamazoo and Albion in third and fourth.

The weather proved to be a tester for the runners, Bauters said.

“It was definitely a cold, wet and windy day,” she said. “I think the conditions may have contributed to slightly slower times across the board but nothing drastic.”

Weather and the team’s youth were both factors in the Belles’ season-long performance. For Bauters, the team’s progress through trials such as the elements as well as inexperience helped season her squad.

“I’m pleased with my team,” she said. “We are very young and there is still a lot for them to learn in so far as competing, getting used to the 6k at the end of the season and just collegiate athletics.”

One particular highlight came at Loyola, where almost the entire team ran their personal best times, despite the hills and overcrowded course and at Benedictine. Saint Mary’s came in fourth overall, but was the first Division III team out of 24 teams total. Finally, at Manchester the Belles placed third and only five points away from second.

Gray was disappointed that the season was coming to a close and said the team would especially miss the seniors. Otto, a senior herself, echoed her sentiments.

“As a senior, I wish this wasn’t the end of cross-country,” Otto said. “But still I’m excited to see how these women do in the future. I hope to one day watch them compete on our home course too.”

The Belles will next compete in the regional meet in Hanover in two weeks, where they hope to improve and register solid times.

“Saint Mary’s is definitely making some heads turn and I’m confident we’ll see even greater improvement in 2007,” Otto said.

Bauters, however, knew the Belles had come a long way.

“I believe this was a successful year for the Belles,” she said.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be coaching such a fine group of young women.”