Women's Cross Country Takes 16th at Nationals

By Doug Fitzgerald published November 23, 2004


The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs women's cross country team finished 16th at nationals Saturday. Considering what they went through to get there, the Mountain Lions' season was nothing short of amazing.

Before the season began, CU-Colorado Springs lost one of its top runners, Ashley Birger, to a leg injury. Others on the team competed at well under 100 percent physically.

"For them to just get there (nationals) was an outstanding accomplishment," said CU-Colorado Springs coach Graeme Badger. "They could have folded, but they didn't."

Shannon Payne concluded her impressive freshman season by completing the Evansville, Ind., course in 23 minutes, 6.3 seconds, good for 21st overall and the best time for a Mountain Lions runner. Her finish also put her just one spot away from earning All-American status.

"Shannon Payne ran a very solid pace," said Badger. "It's the highest freshman finish we've had at a national meet."

Payne's finish was even more impressive considering the atmosphere was unlike anything she had encountered previously.

"It's intimidating to race at nationals," said Badger. "There are people and banners everywhere. It's very intense."

Even tougher than the atmosphere was the competition.

"The national teams were stronger than I've seen in the past," said Badger. "The teams at the top were as strong as always, but the teams in the middle were stronger than in the past.

"Three of the teams we competed against (North Dakota, Kennesaw State and North Florida) are going Division I next year."

CU-Colorado Springs rose to as high as 12th nationally this season, largely because of grit and savvy. But guts can take a team only so far, and at nationals the loss of Birger and the physical limitations finally took their toll.

"Everybody there is as tough as we are," said Badger. "If you put a surge on, they'll counter with a surge of their own. In most of our races, we can eliminate some of the competition.

"It's tough mentally when you put up a great split and the entire pack is still there with you."

Tina Gray and Sarah Shepard finished second and third for the Mountain Lions. Gray was 50th overall with a time of 23:43.9, while Shepard came in 51st at 23:44.8. Other scoring runners for CU-Colorado Springs were Megan Lund and Kari Samuelson. Chelsey Cerrillo and Jessica Urban also competed.

Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rivals Adams State and Western State took first and third, respectively. Edinboro took second.

The 16th-place finish was the third best in CU-Colorado Springs history. The team took 11th in 2002 and 10th in 2000.

Considering that there are over 250 teams in the United States, that's pretty darn good.

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Ashley BirgerAshley BirgerSteeplechaseSo.
Ashley BirgerAshley BirgerSteeplechaseSo.
Ashley BirgerAshley BirgerSteeplechaseSo.
Ashley BirgerAshley BirgerSo.
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Megan LundMegan LundDistanceSo.
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Kari SamuelsonKari SamuelsonSr.
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Tina GrayTina GrayJr.
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Jessica UrbanJessica UrbanDistance
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Shannon PayneShannon Payne
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