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SMC Cross Country: Gray, six other runners head to Regional meet

Matt Gamber | Friday, November 9, 2007

After a fourth-place team finish at the Oct. 27 MIAA Championships ensured this season would be the best in school history, seven Saint Mary’s runners will now shift their focus to individual goals heading into Saturday’s Division III Regionals.

Seniors Megan Gray and Olenka Bilyk, junior Caitlin Brodmerkel, sophomore Megan McClowry, and freshmen Sam Wiezorek, Catie Salyer and Claire McVey will all compete Saturday at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. The top two teams in the 36-team field will advance, as will an at-large team and the seven highest finishing individuals not on one of the advancing squads.

Gray, who placed second overall at the MIAA Championship, represents the Belles’ best chance to qualify for the Division III Championships, held Nov. 23 at St. Olaf’s in Northfield, Minn. Last year, Gray became the Belles’ first-ever national qualifier after finishing 10th at Regionals.

“Megan has continued to look strong since Championships, so I believe she is ready to have an awesome race,” coach Jackie Bauters said.

Though Saturday could be Gray’s final race with Saint Mary’s, she has refused to place any added pressure on herself.

“It could be my last college cross country race, but it’s definitely not my last race,” said Gray, a two-time all-MIAA performer. “That’s one of the greatest things about this sport: It never has to end. So as far as having my back against the wall, I’d say no. I just want to run. Run and feel strong.”

Bauters expects her team to improve on last year’s 20th-place finish at the regional meet, and both Bauters and Gray knows that if the Belles do, it won’t be just because of the seven girls competing tomorrow.

“This team is special,” Bauters said. “They came together as a unit at camp, and their cohesiveness is one of the main ingredients for this season’s success. Every day they push each other, hold each other accountable and encourage each other to be the best they can be. And, if they need it, they are always there as a shoulder to lean on for a teammate – we are a family.”

And this family has continued to support one another, even after most of the Belles’ runners have seen their seasons end.

“It’s amazing to have girls still coming to practice that don’t have to. I think it shows their dedication to and their support of this team,” Gray said. “But really, while only nine women are allowed to travel with the team to Calvin on Saturday, it’s taken this entire team to get us there.”