Women take eighth at regional meet

Hallie Hocker

Fighting heat and running without its two seniors, the women’s cross country team placed eighth of 18 teams at the regional meet in Abilene, Texas on Nov. 5.

Central Missouri State University and Abilene Christian University were the top two teams.

Sophomore Kelly O’Toole said on race day the heat was almost 90 degrees.

“We haven’t been used to running in that heat in a while,” O’Toole said. “The past few races were in the 60s.”

O’Toole was the first Lion to cross the finish line with a time of 24:34.15, place 26th.

“Kelly O’Toole had a great year and meet,” said Jamie Burnham, assistant women’s cross country coach. “She was the most consistent all year. She had a good year from where she came from last year. There were a lot of improvements this year.”

The team’s first freshman to finish was Kara Eckard, who came in at 25:05.05 for 39th. Alison Walker was 47th with 25:20.10. Krista Merrill was two spots behind with a time of 25:21.50. Kari Fritchie finished in 25:33.35.

“The thing that killed – our two seniors, who are a very important part of our team, weren’t able to finish,” O’Toole said.

Seniors Erin Click and Kelly Fanning were two of several athletes that day who were unable to finish the race due to injuries and dehydration.

“[Click and Fanning] have had such a large leadership role for this group that it’s unfortunate to see them go out in that manner,” said Patty Vavra head women’s cross country coach.

The rest of the team battled the elements the rest of the race.

“We started really bad,” Eckard said. “There was a tree in the way; as a team, we didn’t get out very well. We were boxed in by some other teams. It was obvious to the spectators.”

Fritchie and Eckard both said they weren’t impressed with the course.

Despite this, Fritchie said even though they’re a young team, they did really well.

“I think a lot of girls worked off each other,” she said. “Even though the two seniors didn’t finish.”

For the season overall, the coaches thought the team didn’t perform in meets like it could have, but the effort put in training by the team was significant.

“It was frustrating because it seemed like we never could put it together at the right time,” Burnham said.

He said the best meet they ran well was in Edwardsville, Ill.

Vavra said it was the first and only time they saw the potential they felt this team had.

“If we could’ve ran that or better at conference and regionals, we could’ve still been training to go to nationals,” Burnham said. “That’s kind of the whole way the season went.”

However, Vavra said they were pleased with their work ethic and attitudes.

“I was extra pleased with the effort our young ladies put forth,” she said. “It just felt like we came up short of what our goals were, which are always reflected by the results of competition.”

She said this was no reflection of the attitude and effort the women put in. She also said they “gelled” very well as a team.

“They did everything we asked,” Vavra said. “They ran with desire and put forth great effort day in and day out.”

Burnham said the group that finished is the same group coming back next year.

“The future looks good for them as far as getting better and better,” he said.

Vavra said the positive side is they have some well-seasoned underclassmen that give them hope for the future.