Women’s cross-country squad seeks first SLIAC title

Julie Greenough
Webster University sophomore Julie Greenough had the best time of the day for the Webster women’s cross-country team at the Illinois College Invitational on Oct. 15 in Jacksonville, Ill. PHOTO COURTESY OF CREIGHTON CHAVEZ

Never before has a Webster University cross-country team — male or female — won the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship. But that could all change this year.
Webster’s women’s cross-country squad is one of the favorites to capture the SLIAC championship on Oct. 29 in Hillsboro, Ill. The Gorloks tied for their best finish in program history last year when they placed second out of eight competing teams.
Webster finished a mere four points behind Principia College in 2010, and the Panthers are once again the Gorloks’ biggest threat this year. Greenville College and Fontbonne University, who finished third and fourth, respectively, at the SLIAC championship last year, also figure to compete for the top spot.
“The goal obviously is to win,” said Dusty Lopez, men’s and women’s cross-country coach. “It’s kind of exciting to be able to even say that after where this program started out and their history. We came really close last year, and we didn’t even really think about it in advance. We didn’t think we had that good of a chance.”
The Webster women’s cross-country program began competing in 1990, and the Gorloks have yet to win a SLIAC title in 21 years. In 2000, the team finished tied for second in a field of six teams. Webster has finished either third or fourth 16 times.
Even though the Gorloks do not have a senior on their roster, the team appears primed to make a run at the 2011 SLIAC championship thanks to a talented group of athletes who have consistently posted solid times throughout the season.
Webster showed its capability at the Illinois College Invitational on Oct. 15 in Jacksonville, Ill. The Gorloks finished third among 10 teams. Webster beat SLIAC foes Principia and Westminster College, who placed fourth and seventh, respectively.
“We definitely raced at a level that would allow us to be very competitive for the SLIAC championship,” Lopez said. “What I told the girls after the race was, ‘Hey, if we do that again in two weeks, we’re going to be looking really good.’”
Sophomore Julie Greenough set a personal record at the 6K IC Invitational with a time of 24:32. Greenough was the top finisher for the Gorloks for the first time in her career, and she finished 11th out of 79 individuals. Greenough said the Gorloks are prepared for the SLIAC championship.
“We pep talk each other all the time, and we know this is really important,” Greenough said. “Since cross-country isn’t a lot like basketball or anything, you don’t get as much publicity with it. But within the cross-country community of people, it’s intense. It’s going to be all-out in conference.”
Freshman Kassandra Ochoa finished second for Webster and 15th overall at the meet with a time of 24:56. One second and one place behind Ochoa was sophomore Heather Heisse. Junior Jane McKibben and sophomore Eroica Stackhouse rounded out the Gorloks’ scoring.
Unlike most other sports, the SLIAC championship doesn’t ensure automatic qualification to the NCAA Division III national championship for the event’s winner. Lopez said “nothing really rides on (the SLIAC championship) other than pride.”
For the Gorloks to automatically advance to the Nov. 19 NCAA championship, they would have to finish in the top two at the Midwest Regional meet on Nov. 12 in Rock Island, Ill.
Because the odds of that happening aren’t good, the team is focused on a first-place finish at the SLIAC championship.
“We’re working so hard, and it’s nice to have all the runners that we do,” Greenough said. “We are a tiny team, but we still put up really good times. It’s reassuring to know that me being the last runner from last year and only racing in like three of the races, with a lot of hard work, there is so much that we can improve. It’s going to be tough, but I know we can do it.”

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