Collegiate Runners From Western MD Excel

by Dave Treber

Cross-country means fields strewn with leaves changing colors. Eleven athletes switched colors, from the red and black of a Westmar Wildcat to the black and gold of a Mountaineer, on down the line, and they are doing quite well in showcasing our area as one that produces some great runners and great students.

Last year, it was Allegany HS graduate Justin Taylor finishing up a four-year standout career at Lehigh. This year, two runners concluded four years, Rachel Leverenz, a Northern HS graduate now at Dickinson College, and Sarah Bowling, a Beall graduate now at University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Leverenz played a huge part in giving Dickinson four of its greatest seasons for a school known for its cross-country programs, and Coach Don Nichter noted that only one other person from any of the conference schools, besides Rachel, has won All-Centennial Conference honors all four years. The Dickinson College women's cross country team earned a trip to the NCAA Division III National Championships with a strong second place finish at the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional. This was the second year in Rachel's tenure that the Red Devils had advanced to the national field, and they were very close to the prize the other two years. Leverenz joined teammates Alex Forte and Liz Allen on the All-Region team, running an 18:38 for the 5-kilometer course.

Nichter stated, "This Fall was the best season ever at Dickinson, statistically, and the best four years. And Rachel ran in the top three for the team all four years."

Nichter and team went into the regionals knowing the score would be close with perennial-powerhouse Haverford for the second team spot, as this was a battle they had been in before. Haverford and Dickinson had faced each other in the Centennial Conference, and Dickinson prevailed there 37- 39. Not everything shows up in the final time or score, and sometimes cross-country can be just as much a contact sport as football. In this meet, Rachel fell to the ground in the jostling of the first 800 meters. The top runners were way ahead and Rachel played catch-up the rest of the way. She chased Haverford's number three runner, the runner they had to catch since Haverford would take the meet's number one and three spots overall. With 200 meters to go, three runners were even. This is the tensest moment of cross-country, when the long distance means nothing and a win or loss comes down to a sprint. Rachel took charge for 5th overall, holding off the Haverford runner, 19:10 to 19:11, and the Western Maryland runner, and Dickinson won by two points. In the regional meet, the three top Dickinson runners were challenged to challenge Haverford from the start, and they prevailed again.

"Those meets were a real character statement for Rachel," Coach Nichter stated, adding, "She has been great to coach."

Another runner who concluded four standout seasons for her school, Beall graduate Sarah Bowling was Captain for the Retrievers of University of Maryland Baltimore County. She ran in the top three nearly every meet for the team, and finished 12th overall at the Maryland Collegiate Championships, earning All-State honors.

Not bad for someone who decided to walk on at a Division I school, and set her goals - publicly at least - at making the team, period. When UMBC hosted a cross-country camp this past August, though, she had advanced to the point where she was selected as team captain. On her selection, Coach Murray Davis said, "She was so helpful and positive, and had done everything over the summer to be ready for the Fall season."

UMBC had not always had a team-oriented team in the past, he admitted, but "Sarah brought the team together, making everyone feel important, especially the younger runners" and, he added, even kept the team from getting lost a few times on the way to meets in the school van.

After being selected captain, Bowling became one of the top runners on the field as well. Injuries lost UMBC the two runners projected to be numbers one and two on the season, and Bowling stepped into that leadership void and placed well for the team as well. She concluded the four years with a strong meet at regionals, 3rd place for the team.

"When Sarah came here, she thought she could run at a Division I school. She's done it," Davis proclaimed, and is now preparing for track and field, where she will be a team captain as well.

Frostburg State had young teams on the men's and women's sides, but Coach Randy Lowe is confident that the local athletes will help them in the long run. Including one who didn't even know what a long run was until cross-country started.

Ron Lipscomb, a Northern graduate, had never run cross-country. He ran track for the Northern Huskies, and never more than 1600 meters. As the Bobcats trained along the C&O Canal, especially one long training exercise with an all-out 8K in the middle, Lipscomb muttered, "I can't believe you talked me into this 8K stuff." The Katie DeRosa Memorial 5K over the summer was the longest he'd ever run.

"Ron PR'ed in the last meet of the season, the way you want all your runners to do," Coach Lowe said. Ron was fully converted to cross-country, and it showed when he turned a 29:30 at the NCAA Division III Regional Championships at Lehigh.

Consistently one of the top runners for the Bobcats, Sy Farris, a Frankfort Class of 2001 graduate, earned all-conference and "Newcomer of the Year" awards. Coach Lowe was named Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference coach of the year. Sy ran a 29:08 at this meet for 3rd place overall.

Beth Sauder, a Southern HS graduate and recipient of a Katie DeRosa scholarship award, was "consistent all year," Lowe noted. "She has been right at 21 minutes for years," he said, "and this year she broke through." Beth ran a 21:02 and a 21:01 and made it at the NCAA Division III Regional Championships with a time of 20:58:93. She ran number two varsity for nearly every meet for the Bobcats.

Finally injury-free, Erin Hoalcroft, a Southern graduate, had a good sophomore season for the Towson Tigers. Coach Roger Erricker, a Frostburg State student athlete class of 1979 himself, said, "Erin is a very hard worker. She does everything we ask but this season was so much more satisfying because last Fall she had so many injury problems." Her standout meets for the team included a 21:34 at the George Washington Invitational and a 21:26 at the Eastern College Athletic Conference championships, where she ran in the top five for the team.

East Hardy graduate West Garrett ran the fastest times of any area runner, competing for the Tribe of the College of William and Mary, one of the top NCAA Division I schools in the Nation. He was 1st on his team and 4th overall at the prestigious IC4A meet at Van Cordtland Park in New York City, running a 25:09, close behind the winner in 25:05.

This meet is the same day as the NCAA National meet, and the Tribe top 7 went to Furman where they placed 16th in the National while the rest of the squad went to New York. With a pace of five minutes per mile, and rapid improvement at the end of the season, he probably would have placed quite well at the nationals.

It was a sore back mid-season that hurt his running. Back in top form, Garrett ran times that has Coach Andrew Gerard eager for track. West Garrett, now a junior at William and Mary, is a runner that excels on both grass and on the track. "He works very hard to prepare for both," Coach Gerard reported.

"He came on so strong at the end," Coach Gerard continued, "We're expecting big things in track."

Two West Virginia Mountaineers, Jennifer Davis (Hampshire HS) and Zach Bittinger (Westmar HS) completed cross-country seasons, and Jennifer led a strong freshman contingent, second overall for the team in most meets. West Virginia lost its number one runner before the season and then had some injuries. But the freshmen, especially Jennifer, came through. "She really stepped up," Coach Jeff Huntoon reported.

He cited the two WVU meets this season at Lehigh University where Davis stood out for the team.

The first was the Paul Short Invitational, a huge race with many of the top teams. Davis was 19th overall out of 269 runners. At the NCAA Division I Regional meet, she was 47th overall and second WVU runner, finishing in 22:22.69. For a team that had many freshmen taking the varsity spots, West Virginia was quite respectable, taking 7th in the region. And Jennifer Davis is now busy preparing for track.

"She is already running mile repeats on the track in practice faster than her PRs from high school," reports Coach Huntoon.

Zach Bittinger is looking to crack the varsity next season for WVU, when he'll be a junior, but has been an active part of the team, practicing with the team and ready to go when the chance comes up. That is the nature of Division I cross-country at the top national programs, and look for Zach to be part of the next Mountaineer squad pushing for a place at the nationals. Erin Davis (Allegany HS) and Jessica Tusing (East Hardy HS) run for James Madison University, another Division I school where cracking the top seven is a honor in itself. The Dukes did very well this Fall, rated 23rd in the Nation, although they were caught in the complicated formula that determines the national representatives. This Fall, two schools from the region qualified automatically and JMU was fourth. Then, thirteen at-larges were chosen and JMU was 14th. In this talent pool, Erin Davis and Jessica Tusing have done quite nicely.

Although "pool" might not be the right word, because when Coach Dave Rinker got Erin, she was probably a swimmer first and a runner second. "Now," Coach Rinker reports, "they're both preparing for indoor and outdoor track." James Madison won the ECAC championships this Fall. "Erin did a real nice job for us in this meet," Rinker said, "she ran 8th overall for the team." He added, "Erin's got some real good runners in front of her, but she is right there with them, ready to step in."

Finding the right training regiment, Coach Rinker believes, is the key for Jessica Tusing. She usually ran 10th to 12th overall for the Dukes. She has run well, "a very consistent runner," he stated, but added that the biggest impediment has been "finding the right training regiment and support to keep her healthy."

In many cases, coaches were quick to note that not only did the runners do well on the field but they have been top-notch in the class. From Erin Hoalcroft who is majoring in Math to Sarah Bowling now interviewing for dental schools, and up and down the cross-country line, area young runners are setting an outstanding pace.
Cougar 5K
Sunday, March 25, 2001 9 a.m.
Oakton HS, Vienna, VA
Reston 10 Miler
Sunday, March 25, 2001 8 a.m.
South Lakes HS, Reston, VA

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