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SMC Cross Country: Gray qualifies for nationals

Matt Gamber | Monday, November 12, 2007

Megan Gray has earned the right to put on her Saint Mary’s jersey for one last race.

With a fourth-place finish at Saturday’s Division III Great Lakes Regional at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., the senior all-MIAA performer qualified for next Saturday’s national meet at Saint Olaf’s in Northfield, Minn.

“Megan’s race was solid and fun to watch,” coach Jackie Bauters said of Gray, who advances to nationals for the second consecutive year. “I knew she had the top-five in her before the start, but I didn’t want to put that pressure on her.”

Gray carried the Belles as she has all season, but freshmen Sam Wieczorek (78th place) and Catie Salyer (87th), sophomore Megan McClowry (104th) and junior Caitlin Brodmerkel (134th) provided a solid supporting cast, allowing the Belles to finish 15th out of 36 teams – a five-place improvement over last year’s finish.

“It was just a good day all around,” Bauters said. “Everyone was excited for regionals, brought their energy to the race, and I think [Saturday] was a great way of showing the girls that they have it in them.”

Though the season has ended for all but Gray, Bauters was enthusiastic about what her team, in its entirety, accomplished – including a fourth-place MIAA finish, the best in school history. While Gray was certainly the team’s star and leader, Bauters credits some of the youngsters for much of the team’s success.

“The freshmen played a huge role on the team this year, with several consistently scoring,” Bauters said. “I feel like they all got a good taste of what it’s like to run in college and will come back next season even more prepared and ready to go. Everyone works hard, and I can only imagine there will be more success in their future seasons.”

But for now, all the focus turns to Gray, who will attempt to improve on her finish at no. 133 in last year’s national meet. And, Bauters said, Gray is capable of doing so.

“Megan just has the ability to push herself to the limit when she goes into a race with just how she feels,” Bauters said. “When she feels strong, she’s going to run well. It’s been an incredible experience for me to coach Megan, and I’m excited that we have one more week of travels together in a Saint Mary’s uniform.

“Her dedication to the sport, overcoming health issues and injuries over the years, is inspiring proof that you can get anything if you work hard enough for it.”