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Belles finish in ninth behind freshman help

Joe Meixell | Monday, October 1, 2007

Saturday’s Sean Earl Invitational in Chicago gave the Saint Mary’s runners another opportunity to drop times as individuals and improve overall as a team, and the Belles took advantage, placing ninth out of 21 teams.

Senior Megan Gray led the way, finishing ninth overall in 19:02. But the real story, according to Belles coach Jackie Bauters, was the impressive times of some of the Belles’ less heralded freshmen runners.

“I think for some of the girls like Sam [Wieczorek] and Catie [Salyer] … they broke through some time barriers, and that has to be a huge confidence booster,” Bauters said. “This weekend was a huge success for us. We had 14 season bests at the meet, which means everyone is improving, and this wasn’t a cake course, especially with a field of 286 [runners].”

Wieczorek (50th place, 20:22), sophomore Megan McClowry (63rd, 20:48), Salyer (68th, 20:54) and senior Olenka Bilyk (76th, 21:11) gave Saint Mary’s a solid team score by all finishing in the top 80.

Missouri Southern won the meet, while conference foe and perennial power Calvin took seventh. Right behind Calvin was fellow MIAA team Albion, and Kalamazoo rounded out the conference teams in 11th.

“I think looking at our finish this year to a year ago is impressive,” Bauters said. In 2006, the Belles finished in 17th place out of 33 teams.

“Sure, not all the teams are the same, and there were a few less complete teams, but it was great to see us finish close to Albion and still come out ahead of Kalamazoo. For some of the other teams, it’s difficult to judge since we don’t see them on a more frequent basis, but it’s great to see the improvement.”

That improvement seems to be the theme of this season for the Belles, highlighted by their fourth-place finish at last week’s MIAA Jamboree – the highest in school history. The team’s goal has been to be the best in Saint Mary’s history since the beginning of the year. And, if the improvement continues, it just might happen.

“The timing of this race was great because we have a 6K coming up this Friday. Even though it’s not that much longer of a race, it does pose new challenges for the team,” Bauters said. “I feel like they will be more confident going into the race after their successes.

“The season is just getting more exciting week after week.”