Women Grab Third at RMAC Championship

By Doug Fitzgerald published October 21, 2006

In the parlance of most sports, the term "uphill" indicates facing adversity, as in an "uphill battle." For the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs women's cross country team, "uphill" is all about opportunity.

Thanks in large part to their prowess on hills, the Mountain Lions took third place at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Women's Cross Country Championship Saturday morning at Elmwood Golf Course.

Shannon Payne finished second overall, the best individual finish ever by a UCCS woman at the RMAC championship. Western State's Esther Komen broke from the pack with two kilometers left. Payne emerged from the pack shortly afterwards and was the only runner to challenge Komen.

"I didn't (break away) on purpose. They just kind of start falling behind and I like to pick them off," said Payne. "Plus I know that I'm not a very good sprinter at the end so I try to start kicking a lot earlier than most runners."

But cross country is a team sport and it was on the course's two hills that the Mountain Lions excelled. Ashley Birger, Jenna Dorsey-Spitz and Lisa Short all passed opposing runners with bursts in the final, 100-meter, uphill stretch of the course.

"Hills are definitely our team's strong point," said Dorsey-Spitz. "We see them as an opportunity to make up ground on the other teams and pass some people."

The extra places gained at the finish and on a larger hill on the course's back stretch helped UCCS shave several points off its team score. The Mountain Lions had 63 team points, 68 less than fourth-place Fort Lewis and 101 better than fifth-place Nebraska-Kearney.

"I'm more proud than anything that we beat people on that last hill," said UCCS coach Graeme Badger. "That shows some strength and determination."

It also showed planning and preparation. UCCS' hill workouts are legendary for their difficulty and Mountain Lion runners have a reputation for their ability to beat people on the inclines and at the finish.

"To have that finishing strength at the end of a race is awesome," said Birger. "Our hill workouts build that endurance."

Birger's finish was particularly impressive. She closed a 20-meter gap over that final, grueling stretch to edge Western State's Elsa Gishu.

"I gave it everything I had," said Birger.

Adams State won the conference title for the fifth straight year and the 21st time in the 25-year history of the meet. The Grizzlies took the third through sixth places to finish with just 33 points. Western State took second with 43 points. Those two schools have won every national championship since moving to NCAA Division II in 1992.

They have also become the ideal to which other cross country programs, including UCCS, aspire.

"Whenever I run, I'm always looking for red and green," said Sarah Shepard. "Western State is our main competition and we came out here to try to beat them today. We know if we can beat Western that's going to put us pretty high in the rankings."

Shepard's time of 23 minutes, 14.85 seconds put her in 12th place overall, while Dorsey-Spitz was 13th at 23:27.20 and Short was 28th at 24:33.00.

Birger took ninth overall to join Payne on the All-RMAC team.

"The competition is always good in our conference so it was nice to see who we need to face for regionals; see what we're going to have to do to qualify for nationals," said Shepard.

So off of Saturday's strong performance, the Mountain Lions now set their sights on the regional meet, which will be held Nov. 4 at Wayne, Neb. For UCCS, which has not yet started tapering and thus should be even faster at regionals, qualifying for a berth in nationals is a goal they expect to reach.

"I definitely feel I can race harder," said Shepard. "I'm hoping next race will be a little quicker."

After all, it will be an uphill battle.

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Ashley BirgerAshley BirgerSteeplechaseSo.
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Lisa ShortLisa ShortDistance
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Jenna Dorsey-SpitzJenna Dorsey-SpitzMid-Distance
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