Wentz Claims First to Lead MIT to Share of New England Title

Men and Women Have Superb Performances at NCAA Regional Qualifier

November 14, 2009

MIT's Men's and Women's Cross Country teams traveled to Cumberland, Maine to participate in the NCAA Division III New England Regional Cross Country Championship hosted by the University of Southern Maine at Twin Brooks Recreation Center this weekend, and left with an individual champion in Jacqui Wentz '10, a tie for the women's title with 63 points, an inspiring sixth place finish by the men's team with 163 points and a total of eight All-New England runners.

The already challenging course (the most difficult all year for MIT) was made much worse by the rain that had begun to fall minutes before the start of the women's race.

The women, ranked fourth in NCAA Division III, went into the meet with a great opportunity to win despite the fact that fifth ranked Middlebury College was the defending national champion and seventh ranked Williams College, had finished third at the national championship last year. MIT had defeated both teams back in mid October in the NEICAAA Championship.

The start of the race could not have been better for MIT. While most of the field sprinted off the line, MIT's harriers got out well and used the entire slightly uphill quarter mile plus to get to the front of the pack. By 1 1/2 miles, the Engineers were in 1-2-4-5 with a nice breakaway from the next pack, which was three seconds back. At the two mile mark, the lead group was down to three; Wentz, Maria Monks '10, and Ravenna Neville from Wesleyan, coming through in 11:40. Alina Gatowski '11, and Tania Morimoto '12, were six seconds back in the next small pack. Brooke Johnson '13, had begun to fall back after being just four seconds off of Gatowski and Morimoto at the mile mark, now running 13 seconds behind. 11 more seconds back were Katherine Eve '12 and Missy Showers '13. At three miles, the lead group of three were still in control, coming through at 17:39. The trail group was now 16 seconds back with Gatowski in that group. Morimoto had begun to tire, losing 17 seconds to Gatowski. Eve had a great third mile, moving up to a fading Johnson in 18:23. The final three quarters of a mile on the 6000 meter course was a fast one, particularly for Wentz, who pulled away with a 3:58 final .73 to win by four seconds in 21:35. Neville earned second place while Monks finished in third in 21:44.

A mad finish to the line for the six through 10 runners, included Gatowski and a bit of controversy. The four runners finished within .4 of a second of each other so the Finish Lynx cameras were used to determine whose torso crossed first. Ankle chips are used in the championships to determine the order of finish, but since the ankle is not the part of the body recorded for an official finish, when it is that close, the photo finish results are used. Gatowski was originally awarded ninth place and the unofficial results were posted with Middlebury College winning the championship by one point. While they were pleased they had run so well and qualified for nationals, the Tech women were a little down. When the results were changed to Gatowski earning eighth place, it put MIT and Middlebury in a tie, which in college, cannot be broken. This change of results left the MIT women quite excited and preserved a sweep of all New England Division III Championships in 2009 for MIT; indoor, outdoor and cross country.

Eve finished with an excellent final 1.75 miles to move up to 24th place in 22:32. Morimoto held onto 27th place with Johnson making a bit of a comeback to earn 28th place. Showers did not have a banner day, finishing in 55th position.

Despite the difficulty of the hills, turns and mud on the course, all of MIT's runners ran 6K personal bests and most came through the 5K at or near their personal best, with all of the top five under 19:00 at 5K.

MIT's men's team had not performed up to their potential all year. Week after week, the Engineers were ranked in the bottom of the top ten teams in New England Division III. With the workouts going better than ever and the health of the team pretty sound, with one exception, MIT's top seven were planning to put it together on this very wet and muddy day.

The start was very similar to the women's with MIT getting a great position without having to work too hard up the hill. At the mile mark, Hemu Arumugam '10, was up towards the front in the top 15 with a 5:01 mile. Bill Phipps '10, was close behind in 5:03. A bit farther back were Paul Welle '11 and Kyle Hannon '13, in 5:07. Still in good position, but in the rear for MIT, were Gihan Amarasiriwardena '11, Dan Harper '12, and Dawit Zewdie '13, in 5:10. The only change for the second mile was Hannon dropping back from an aggravation with his IT band.

In the third and fourth miles, Arumugam lost a couple places, but Welle moved up a few places and was only three seconds in back of his teammate in 20:55 at the end of mile four. Amarasiriwardena was also running very well and had moved into the top 45. Phipps had been fading a bit in these two miles but was still MIT's fourth man. Harper was running consistently and looked pretty fresh at the four mile mark. Zewdie, whose stomach had been giving him problems during races for the latter half of the season, was again having problems and had dropped back.

At the finish, Arumugam was timed in 25:59 for 20th place. Right behind in a season personal best of 26:03, was Welle. Amarasiriwardena, who was only four seconds off his best, which was run on a flat, fast course, was 37th in 26:22. Harper ran a 5:01 final mile to move up a lot and finish 41st in 26:26. Just behind, and finishing fifth for MIT and 44th overall, was Phipps in 26:28.

The sixth place finish with 163 points for the men was an excellent ending to the season. They defeated two nationally ranked teams, in Southern Maine and Tufts, as well as finishing just 10 points out of fifth and a possible NCAA Championship birth. The men, in fact, were only 31 points out of third place in the 48 team field.

MIT was supported by a tremendous following of alumni and current teammates. Many of the alumni came quite a distance to support the Engineers' effort. MIT's women will compete in the NCAA Division III Championship race on Saturday, November 21st, at Highland Hills Golf Course, Highland Hills, Ohio. The meet is hosted by Baldwin-Wallace College.