In the first season in history in which the West Coast Conference has sent a women’s cross-country team to the NCAA Division 1 National Championships, the USF Dons finished 25th overall, one spot ahead of their seeding. Junior Laura Suur was the highest individual finisher for the Dons, placing 38th overall with a time of 20:31 for the 6k course. The race took place Monday, Nov. 21 in the cold and rain of Terre Haute, Indiana at the LaVerne Gibson Cross Country Course.
“I am extremely proud of how our women competed today,” head coach Helen Lehman-Winters said.
Along with it being USF’s first time qualifying for nationals, Suur earned another first for a USF runner: All American Honors. She was one of three All-Americans from the WCC, which also included three-time WCC individual champion red shirt senior Tara Erdmann of LMU and senior Morgan Haws of BYU. Erdmann and Haws finished 10th and 14th respectively.
“Laura (Suur) ran a very patient race and ran her way into All-American honors. I am thrilled with how she rebounded from regionals and today she showed that she is one of the top women in the country,” Lehman-Winters said.
Suur is also one of the top female runners in another country – born and raised in Jogeva, Estonia, Suur is the Under-23 National Record holder in Estonia for the 5k and holds several other awards in her home country. She also placed 14th in the 5k at the Under-23 European Championships last year.
Also appearing in the National Championships from the WCC was the BYU Cougars team, runners-up to the Dons in the conference standings. Both USF and BYU were at-large qualifiers for the race, meaning that they did not qualify automatically by placing first or second in their region, but still received an at-large bid. The Dons finished 6th in the West Regionals out of 31 teams. Of the nine regions, the highest number of at-large bids came out of the West (seven), indicating the elite level of competition found in the West compared to the rest of the country.
Sheila Reid of Villanova was 2011’s individual national champion, running the 6k course in just 19.41.2, while Oregon’s Jordan Hasay crossed the finish line just 6 tenths of a second later for second place. No. 4 Georgetown won the team championship, followed by the West Region Champions No. 3 Washington. Next came No. 2 Villanova, No. 1 Florida and No. 16 Oregon.
The Dons, having had their best year in history, expect to go even farther next season. USF will not lose any current team members to graduation and they will gain red-shirted runners Hillary Kigar and Eva Krchova for the 2012 season. They are one of just two teams in the top-25 who will not be losing any senior runners.
“Our lack of depth cost us a bit today, but our women managed the competition and race conditions well in their first NCAA appearance. Today our women experienced a taste of cross country at the highest level and they are already hungry to improve on our performance next year,” declared Lehman-Winters.