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Harriers lead Eagle teams

Photo of BC Harriers runningAlthough the running craze in the late 1970s and 1980s brought the marathon into popular culture, it did not touch the sport of cross-country, which was and remains an obscure pursuit. Cross-country does not even have a presence in the Olympics, a festival of obscure sports. In line with their race's low profile, BC women's cross-country runners have largely gone unheralded, as well -- that is, until part way through last fall. But on November 20, the women's cross-country team captured fourth place at the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships, held at Iowa State University's 6,000-meter (3.75-mile) course. It was the best finish ever for a BC women's team in NCAA competition. Three of the Eagles' racers made All-American.

With all seven of the top runners due back for the 2001 season, head coach Randy Thomas envisions a possible national championship next fall.

That's a long way from the 1999 finish, when the Eagles ran 28th out of 31 teams in the NCAA tournament. After that race, says assistant coach Kathy Fleming, "they were moping; they just wanted to go home, the sooner the better." Instead, at Fleming's urging, Thomas commanded that the downcast athletes stay to watch the top four teams receive their awards. "You could see the envy on their faces," says Fleming. "It was a real mental turnaround; instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they came away hungry for that experience."

To achieve it, cocaptains Lisa McIsaac '01 and Katie Ryan '02 knew they would have to rebuild the team's attitude. "A lot of us in high school were successful as individuals," says McIsaac. "At this level, though, that approach is self-defeating."

Many runners accustomed to being superstars in high school are middle-of-the-pack athletes at the upper reaches of college competition. That demands a mental adjustment, from pursuing individual glory to embracing team goals, and committing yourself to ignore burning lungs and cramping muscles to finish 120th instead of 121st, because you know that a single point might be the difference between a team trophy and a long, depressing ride home.

The summer workout regimen that Fleming put together last May -- long distance work and easy runs of seven or eight miles at a pace of 7 or 7.5 minutes to the mile -- became a rallying point. "We set up an e-mail list and made everyone accountable for getting in their workouts," says All-American Ryan, who took 24th place in the NCAA championship race. "If someone had a really good workout, they would send everyone else an e-mail about it. You'd read that and say, 'Well, she's doing that, so I should too.'"

As the regular season began, the focus intensified. The runners wore identical team shirts in the weight room. They wrote motivational slogans ("You're looking strong!") for one another. They prepared team pasta dinners.

"We all knew if we each did our part as a team member, we'd reach our goals," says Megan Guiney '03, who led BC's charge in the NCAA final by finishing 13th overall.

The team went undefeated in dual meets against area colleges and universities, taking the first nine places at the Dartmouth Invitational. They won the Big East title for the first time in 15 years, and beat national powerhouses Georgetown and Providence to win the NCAA Region I qualifying meet.

"My favorite part of this sport is setting goals and trying to reach them," says Megan's twin sister, Cate, who ran 34th in the final and also made All-American. "Our goal next year is to win the whole thing."

Any personal goals? she is asked. "Well, I'd like to finish in the top 10."

Moments after the telephone interview ends, she calls back. "You know what? It doesn't really matter to me where I finish -- as long as the team wins the national championship."

John Ombelets

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