|In a photo taken in September, Whitman's Jennie Wood talks with newspaper reporter Ken Morgan after winning the Whitman Invitational. Wood placed fourth in Saturday's Northwest Conference Championships.|
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Despite having lost five quality seniors to graduation and a sixth top runner to injury, the Whitman College women's cross country team came remarkably close to defending its Northwest Conference cross country title Saturday morning at Ft. Walla Walla Park.
Led by senior Jennie Wood, the Missionary women placed second in the nine-school field, losing by just 13 points to Willamette University. Wood, who is running her first season of cross country after three years of varsity soccer, placed fourth in the 5,000 meters in 18:59.44, one notch in front of Willamette's top finisher.
Willamette claimed the women's crown with 50 place points for its top five runners. Whitman was second with 63 points and Whitworth third with 72 points. Pacific Lutheran was a close fourth with 76 points.
Whitman coach Carol Feezell was nothing less than thrilled with her women's team. "I am more happy with our second-place finish this year than I was with our first-place finish last year, if that's possible," Feezell said. "The challenge facing this year's team was much greater. Our women ran with so much courage and determination today, just to beat Whitworth and Pacific Lutheran. Coming as close as we did to beating Willamette was great."
Wood earned first-team all-conference honors by placing in the top seven. Two more Missionary seniors, Heather Koertje and Liz Briggs, walked away with second-team all-NWC recognition. Koertje, who placed fourth in last year's championships, finished 12th this time around in 19:17.45. Briggs was 14th in 19:19.23.
Whitman's next two runners, also seniors, were not far behind. Heather Barr was 16th in 19:27.24 while Wren McNally, another converted soccer player, placed 17th in 19:29.62.
"The women ran their race as such a tight group," Feezell said. "They did exactly what they needed to do to place as high as they did in the team scoring. What's more encouraging is that I don't think we've quite hit our peak yet. The plan all fall has been to peak at regionals in two weeks."
As they have all season, the Missionaries ran without sophomore Karin Pfeiffer-Hoyt, who placed sixth in the conference championships last season as a freshman. Pfeiffer-Hoyt has yet to recover from a springtime stress fracture in one of her shins.
|In a photo taken earlier this fall, Whitman's Liz Briggs gets a contratulatory hug from coach Carol Feezell. Briggs earned second-team all-NWC honors Saturday in the conference championships.|
"Had Karin been healthy this fall, I think it's very possible the women could have defended their conference title," Feezell said. "She is very, very competitive. Karin would have been right there with Jennie, fighting for the top spot on our team."
Others running for the Whitman women Saturday were Jeanne Knechtges, 45th, 20:44.59; Alison Gillespie, 46th, 20:47.34; Piper Foster, 51st, 21:02.88; Flo Larkin, 55th, 21:28.30; and Libby Winters, 61st, 21:44.92. There were a total of 77 runners in the women's race.
Pacific Lutheran's Lia Ossiander, who placed second last year as a sophomore, won Saturday's race in 18:08.11. One of her teammates, senior Maree George-Milles, was second in 18:31.87. George-Milles, who missed last season because of illness, placed fifth at the NCAA DIII national championships in 1998.
Dana Boyle, a University of Puget Sound junior, took third in Saturday's race in 18:52.20. Boyle won the women's NWC title two years ago.
The NCAA DIII west regionals are set for Saturday, Nov. 11, in Chino, Calif. The women's team that wins that race will advance to the NCAA national championships. The top six runners not on that winning team also will earn berths at nationals.
"As I said, the hope is that our women's team will peak at the regionals," Feezell said. If the Missionaries are not able to win that race, she added, Wood has a "definite shot at being one of the six not on the winning team."
Dave Holden, Whitman Sports Information, (509) 527-5902